Pure Cane Sugar continues tradition after-Thanksgiving shows

Pure Cane Sugar, featuring the duo of Kate Twoey and Natalie Race, will perform Friday at The Bar in Boalsburg.
Pure Cane Sugar, featuring the duo of Kate Twoey and Natalie Race, will perform Friday at The Bar in Boalsburg. Photo provided

In Centre County, four things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, the truth and the fact that Pure Cane Sugar plays the soundtrack to the golden room of Centre County’s heart.

That soundtrack will be spinning live and in person the day after Thanksgiving at The Bar in Boalsburg starting at 9:30 p.m., Saturday at Zeno’s starting at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at Elk Creek Café + Aleworks starting at 5 p.m.

The gigs will feature Kate Twoey and Natalie Race as a duo at The Bar and then the full band — including Twoey on guitar and vocals, Race on vocals, Daryl Branford on drums, Bob Hart on bass and Brian Clearly on guitar — at Zeno’s and Elk Creek. Both iterations of the band continue to evolve, making Pure Cane Sugar one of the most dynamic ensembles in our area over the past decade.

“Since we added Brian last year — he’s been with us for almost a year , it will be a year in January,” Twoey said, “it gave us an opportunity to learn some new material, to write some new material. He has an incredible voice, so it added a third vocal into the band which has allowed us to add some new songs, and add some new songs where Brian is singing lead, which is so much fun.”

Pure Cane Sugar gigs a lot. The full band plays at least weekly at Zeno’s and then occasional shows at Elk Creek, The State Theatre and wherever else make up a busy schedule, and the duo gigs, while much more intimate and low key, keep the sugar flowing. I’ve had the pleasure of catching snippets of a few of their Zeno’s shows this fall, and they are just fabulous, from Twoey’s gleaming heart, to Race’s ethereal majesty, to Branford’s earth element, to Hart’s aesthetic wizardry and to Cleary’s seminal riffs ... it’s a sweet, sweet show and one that speaks directly to the heart of the Centre County community.

“Thanksgiving’s really cool because there’s so much family involved with holidays,” Twoey said. “We have both our biological family and our music community family, and so this is a great holiday because, since it always falls on Thursday, we get to do both things, which is rare, where we get to spend time with our biological family and then we have the weekend to spend with our music family.”

The three gigs Pure Cane Sugar is playing this weekend are each special in their own way. The Bar is a local favorite and a favorite of Twoey’s, Zeno’s is the band’s home base and the Elk Creek show stands out because Pure Cane Sugar has played at the Elk Creek the Sunday after Thanksgiving every year since 2009, making this the ninth year of the tradition pairing one of Centre’s County’s premier venues with one of Centre County’s premier bands.

“It has turned into this yearly tradition where every Sunday after Thanksgiving we go out there, so it’s really special and nostalgic,” Twoey said. “The last couple of years we’ve picked a theme for the show. This year we just wanted to come out with a full bad and just have a party, and celebrate the end of the holiday week.”

If you’ve never experienced a Pure Cane Sugar show, they are high energy, emotion-laden, three-part harmony extravaganzas highlighted by guitar riffing by no less than the best rock guitarist in our area, which was true when Junior Tutwiler was steering the lead guitar ship and remains true now that Cleary has stepped into the role. Yes, the band has recordings, and yes, the recordings are great, but the band’s live shows are where the Pure Cane lotus is in full bloom.

“The whole point is our shows are a journey, whether it’s a duo show or a full-band show. They’re a journey for us too. We don’t make set lists. We are in this journey with the crowd. Every single show is a new experience, and we don’t know where it’s going to go, where our journey’s going to take us. But, it’s not just our decision. It’s part of the crowd’s decision as well. So, we’re all in it together.”

Along with being on a journey, it’s also a bit more simple, as Twoey explained. It’s about having fun, and laughing, and making music with people who you truly enjoy being around, and genuinely loving every step of the journey, in whatever direction it goes.

“We’re just so lucky to do it as often as we do,” Twoey said. “We’re thankful.”

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