‘Let’s Throw a Party’ with Sammy Rae & The Friends
Bandleader Sammy Rae on making music and moving forward
Sammy Rae & The Friends, a Brooklyn-based band whose brilliance is profound to some and unknown to too many, were greeted on Friday by an intimate crowd at The Hamilton in D.C.
Dolled up in sequined ensembles, the glimmering group played boldly through intricate melodies and dynamic instrumentation. With a setlist that included songs from their two EPs, as well as a Tears for Fears cover and a debut track, the musicians ensured mass-appeal while satisfying the niche interests of their die-hard cult following.
Bandleader Sammy Rae has spent her career building up an effervescent band of players that encapsulate the sound of bliss. Defying most clear-cut categories of music, the band's repertoire is easily identifiable in its spunk and vivacity.
“Some of us come from rock and roll, some of us come from straight ahead jazz, some of us come from musical theatre, world music or latin music,” Sammy Rae said. “So I think what’s special about the sound of The Friends is that it's a whole bunch of different sounds that you can only achieve when you have those different players playing their different thing as hard as they can all together in the same room.”
Such is the case with their live performances. In between songs, Sammy serenaded the audience with brief, sung anecdotes as the band prepared for their next song. A comforting motif, “I wanna be friends with ya,” reemerged throughout the show and reminded the audience of the raw, tête-à-tête emotion that is channeled through Sammy Rae’s lyrics. The band also maintained interactivity, inviting the audience into casual conversation and choreography.
Along with her radiant persona and daring composition skills, Sammy Rae is known for the depth and range of her jewel-toned, honey-dipped voice. She is best recognized for her “Dancing Queen” TikTok challenge: a short riff that she created that many vocalists have been repeating in hopes of reproducing her tone and vocal control. Even with the video reaching beyond 3 million views, Sammy Rae mentioned that her TikTok fame has yet to impact the band’s streams.
“TikTok has really taught me a lot about the industry, and I am kind of disappointed sometimes to see that it's not as effective a tool as I’d like it to be,” Sammy Rae said. “But it’s been very affirming for me, as an individual, and in some ways, it’s been very encouraging to look at the success that the band has that we’ve gained through hard work and grassroots community and not some viral fluke.”
The versatility of Sammy Rae’s voice has also given the band room to grow in its live performances. Long-time fans of the Friends are quick to notice how the band’s concert renditions of songs will often deviate greatly from the material put forth on their records. On Friday, the performance of “The Good Life” incorporated modified instrumental solos while other songs, such as “Talk it Up,” had altered melodic lines. For Sammy Rae, these changes come as a result of time and a reimagining of their older material.
“I think it keeps it interesting for me to be able to do some new stuff,” Sammy Rae said. “We’re at this great place where we’re selling out all these rooms, and the band was talking about how [the fans] know every word to the song — they already bought the ticket, they know how it sounds on the record, they already love that song. So why not give them a new version of it?”
As for the future, Sammy Rae and her band are looking forward to the rest of their tour and bringing their music to the crowds that are ready to embrace the group’s dazzling charisma.
“We’ll be playing some Northeast shows; these are all cities that we’ve played before and every city is sold out, which is really exciting,” Sammy Rae said. “To be able to play a city that you love and then go back a play a larger room for a sold-out crowd is a really tangible mark of growth, and very encouraging for us.”
Sammy Rae & The Friends tour tickets are on sale here. They will be visiting D.C. again on March 4, 2022.