November 3, 2014
Grammy-nominated folk artists The Milk Carton Kids & Sarah Jarosz, brought their 16 city limited tour to Knight Theatre this past Wednesday evening. Along with bassist Samson Grisman, cellist Nathaniel Smith, and violinist Alex Hargreaves the trio put together a flawless 90 minute performance exhibiting the collective groups’ depth of musical talent.
Having met following several run-ins at elite festivals such as Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Newport Folk Festival in 2013, the Milk Carton Kids (Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan) started opening for Jarosz and decided to collaborate on a song together during a taping of Austin City Limits. The seamless harmonies produced by the trio and professional admiration amongst the troupe led them to embark on a limited tour. Together they’ve created inspired arrangements of covers and rearranged each band’s original songs into something new to produce an evening for fans which is truly unique.
When artists collaborate something magical happens. Perhaps they draw on each other’s strengths, raising the bar to create something uniquely special that neither could do alone. Or maybe it’s a chance to breathe new life into old material. Whichever the case, Wednesday’s performance serves as a testament to the power of humility and community within these genres and reaffirms its relevant and rightful place in today’s pop culture.
With a small understated stage set up resembling a living room from an era long forgotten, the trio performed in front of one microphone. Choosing to leave the pomp and circumstance (which many in their peer group favor) behind to let the understated yet distinctive harmonies and musicianship speak for itself. (The only clear sign of pop culture sat atop Grisman’s head – a flat-billed San Francisco Giant’s cap – obviously a nod to his team who went on to win Game 7 and solidify the 2014 World Series title.)
The power of this union is portrayed through the warmth and camaraderie on the stage. The audience remained transfixed throughout the entire performance even at times leaning in as if to ensure their ability to capture every note. The only sounds in between songs came from Ryan’s ‘off-the-cuff commentary and easy dry wit. As if the music wasn’t enough the stage banter could almost stand on its own.
Drawing on songs from each of their individual catalogues, as well as several classic covers and collaborations of their own, The Kids and Jarosz offered a poignant collaborative performance for two genres struggling to define themselves amongst today’s audience. The trio, offering their own unique take, paid homage to each genre’s roots while embracing the breadth of its history.
Both acts have earned admiration individually – the Milk Carton Kids’ are regularly compared to Simon & Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers with their close harmonies and flat picking guitar style. Jarosz, only 23, is already described as a bluegrass prodigy. Both are Grammy nominated artists. And yet, it’s refreshing to see that their passion and love of music and creative drive led them to pursue collaboration for the art of it – not the business aspect. Both will return to their regularly scheduled recording schedules once the tour completes in a few weeks.
Whether or not the trio deems the collaboration a success or not, for fans, this virtuously simple performance was a breath of fresh air and something they hope to see more of in the future. To use a sports analogy that Grisman and other San Francisco Giants can understand – they knocked this one out of the park.
Listen to the album The Ash & Clay by The Milk Carton Kids
Listen to the album Build Me Up From Bones by Sarah Jarosz