Pure Cane Sugar to take on Joni Mitchell at Elk Creek Cafe

For its annual after-Thanksgiving show at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, Pure Cane Sugar will perform Joni Mitchell songs.
For its annual after-Thanksgiving show at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, Pure Cane Sugar will perform Joni Mitchell songs. Photo provided

There are few voices in the Centre County scene that sing as sweetly as the two voices at the heart of Pure Cane Sugar.

That’s an understatement. There are few voices anywhere that sing so beautifully.

At Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks on Sunday, those voices will take on one of music’s most iconic voices: Joni Mitchell.

“We’ve been playing the weekend after Thanksgiving since 2009 at Elk Creek,” singer and guitarist Kate Twoey said. “Last year we decided to do something special for it, so we did a tribute to country legends, and this year Bob (Hart, Pure Cane Sugar bassist) had the idea to do Joni Mitchell, which really was scary and exciting all at the same time.”

Twoey and singer Natalie Race ran with the idea, both because as a rule it’s generally a good practice to bring in elements of Mitchell to musical endeavors, but more so because they’re simply fans, and the idea of singing her songs lit them up.

“This has been cool because I haven’t listened to Joni in so long,” Race said. “I’m a fan, but I’m not a super fan, and it’s been fun to revisit these songs and really sit with them.”

Twoey agreed.

“I had a Joni phase in my life, kind of a coming of age phase,” Twoey said, “and Joni was really important during that phase for me. I’m kind of the same way. I haven’t really listened to her in many years.”

While Race and Twoey have their respective affinities for Mitchell’s music and are looking forward to getting reacquainted with the songs, Hart has his own take on this special gig.

“I’m a very big Joni fan,” he said. “I originally discovered Joni Mitchell because I was a big bass player geek, and when I was 18 I was really into Jaco Pastorius. So, Jaco played with Joni Mitchell in the mid-70s, and I was really interested because I was a big Jaco fan. And then I listened to the stuff he did with Joni Mitchell, and then I listened to the rest of the Joni Mitchell stuff and I was super hooked. And then I didn’t care about Jaco any more, I only cared about Joni Mitchell.”

Those who are lucky enough to attend this special event at the Elk Creek will get to be entertained by Twoey, Race and Hart, who still booked themselves as Pure Cane Sugar even though other members of the band won’t be along for this one. But, even with only a trio, the instrumentation becomes somewhat complex due to Mitchell’s propensity for playing guitars with alternate tunings.

“In this show, listeners can expect to see a lot of guitars,” Twoey said, “because Joni’s tunings are amazingly difficult and unique, so we’re going to have a handful of guitars there, which is going to be an exciting, different way of playing. Bob’s also going to be playing the piano on some songs.”

With the lineup set and the instrumentation worked out, there’s one other special feature of the night, a veritable fourth member of the band.

“So, it’s me an Nat and Bob and then Eric Ian Farmer,” Twoey said. “And Eric’s going to be a special guest on the cajon, and we’re going to do mostly older Joni. We’re doing a lot of things from “Blue,” “Court and Spark,” “Ladies of the Canyon” ... that era. Those are the albums that around the same age spoke to us.”

With all of this, it’s a meaningful show for Pure Cane Sugar and Farmer, and that it’s part of an annual holiday tradition gives it even more appeal.

“It’s really a privilege for us to return to Elk Creek every year after Thanksgiving,” Twoey said. “We really think it’s a special show. This show in particular, I think we maybe are a little more emotionally connected than we were last years. This one is kind of emotional for all of us.”

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs @gmail.com.


  • What: Pure Cane Sugar
  • When: 5 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, 100 W. Main St., Millheim
  • Info: www.elkcreekcafe.com