Sammy Rae & The Friends is a collective of seven musicians who “consider themselves a family first.” But the lovefest isn’t insular. To them, the fans that gather for their shows are a part of the energy, so much so that they lovingly call them “friends.”
Hailing from Brooklyn and producing a sound that mimics ‘70s funk artists as well as today's pop rock hits, they have been known to rock a range of venues, from small, local spots all around the country to major festivals such as Bonnaroo.
“When you play at a festival like Bonnaroo, and there’s thousands of thousands of thousands of people, you know that not all of them know who you are. So, you have to play what we refer to as ‘just bangers.’ You just kind of play bangers … for 90 minutes,” Samantha Bowers, professionally known as Sammy Rae, tells Pittsburgh City Paper.
For a big festival crowd, the band tends to play more covers than they would at a headline show. When there is a more large-scale audience, they say, the show becomes about reeling in people's attention to their performance.
But those attending their show at Mr. Small’s In Millvale on Sunday can expect more of their original music. “When you’re playing a headline show,” Rae says, “you did work really hard for these people to be in the room and you’re very grateful that they’re there, and they’re your people. You know, these are the friends that’s out in the audience. I trust them. I know them.”
Rae means that somewhat literally, or at least, that’s the goal. Sammy Rae & The Friends are dedicated to building an audience that is emotionally interconnected. They encourage audience members, or their “friends,” to smile at each other and start talking to one another about what naturally comes to them. It’s a whole vibe.
When asked about how their energy has changed, and how their performances reflect this, Rae tells City Paper: “Well for one, I’m not 20 anymore. I’m also not 25. When I first started out I was younger and I was physically able in different ways. I was emotionally available in different ways. The rooms were smaller, the audience was smaller. It was a lot of ‘we need to be as big and loud and impressive as possible in order to get this thing off the ground.’”
But now, “we can be more sparing and intentional and revelatory in our energy, Rae says. “I think there’s a sense of trust that’s been built between us and the audience.”
The band describes their shows as “shot in the arm of affirmation and individuality.” So what does that mean to Rae, as a queer artist?
“I was a young person trying to consume music one time and admiring artists,” Rae says, “I would hear the songs that I love and I would watch them perform. But something that wouldn’t happen in every show I would attend as a young queer person is where I would see someone just fully existing as themselves. I can just exist and just be myself and be a queer human. And that is, I think that shot in the arm, that missing link, that I was missing when I was young.”
Sammy Rae & The Friends are performing a sold-out show at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, on Sunday, October 1. Bedroom pop artist, Chicago-native, Kaina, is their supporting act.