Milk Carton Kids celebrate ‘homecoming’ with LA Folk Festival

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The Milk Carton Kids are an indie folk group made of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan. Photo by David McClister.

The Milk Carton Kids are Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan. But their faces have never actually appeared on a milk carton, unlike the 1980s phenomenon highlighting missing children that inspired the band’s name. “When we found out how short-lived and unsuccessful the campaign was, we were like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to name ourselves after that,’” Ryan says.

Their run hasn’t been quite so short-lived, though, they’re still going strong more than a decade after they debuted in 2011. And the indie folk act is doing more than just performing, they’re bringing the first “annual” LA Folk Festival to The Ford theater this weekend.

The inspiration to bring the festival to LA came from their summers spent playing other folk festivals all over the world. “It's like a big homecoming every time [we play a folk festival] because we see all our friends backstage. We get to watch each other perform and catch up with this group of misfits, who we feel like are the only ones who really understand what it is to be a touring musician,” says Ryan. 

This kinship extends to fans of folk music too, he points out. “There's just this beautiful worldwide community of people who like this weird music. And we feel like LA is actually a historic epicenter of folk music, and that we ought to have our own festival​​.”

Historically, Ryan says, folks musicians have blossomed in Los Angeles. “LA obviously has the very famous Laurel Canyon music scene from the 60s and 70s — Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Joni Mitchell,” he says. “And then Woody Guthrie's LA years are not to be underestimated in the influence they had on him and his music and especially his political radicalization.”

These days, LA’s modern folk music scene is based around specific venues, like McCabe’s and Largo, which Ryan calls their “home base.” 

When the duo started planning the festival, they initially weren’t expecting to have many big headliners. “We wrote down a wishlist of who would play the first year, and somehow they were all available and willing to come hang out,” Pattengale says. 

Some of the artists that will appear at this weekend’s Folk Festival include:

As for the tongue-in-cheek “annual” tacked onto the name of their first festival, Pattengale says, “The opportunity that we saw was not only for our colleagues that spend their entire career traveling alone in cars, and sitting in dark, depressing green rooms and being out on the road working for a living — not only trying to build a place for them to feel comfortable, but also [serving] that really vibrant, great audience for which there's been great tracks laid in Southern California to participate in. So I guess they'll be the ones that help us decide if we'll do it again. But we're down.”