Sammy Rae & The Friends make a bubbly return to the DMV
Bandleader Sammy Rae on performing live, queer representation in music and new music on the horizon
Bubble guns, jazz horns and a rhythmic voice beaming to the crowd: These are the qualities unmistakable to the musical aura of Sammy Rae & The Friends. Returning to D.C.for their “If It All Goes South” tour, the Brooklyn-based musical collective delivered a lively, yet personal performance at The Fillmore Silver Spring on Oct. 12. Die-hard fans filtered through the venue, dressed in sequins and adorned with boas, prepared to sing and dance along to their favorite songs.
Having just completed a springtime North American tour, and having last performed in the district in March, it’s clear that the band thrives off of interactions with their fanbase.
“I think it's really special to see that sort of exchange of energy between us in the audience,” Sammy Rae said in an interview with The Eagle. “It's not just about the songs, it's about showing up and being ourselves in front of them. And it's about the space that we cultivate for them to express themselves when they come to see the show ... You get to really see, person to person, how your music is having an impact.”
At the start of the show, the band filtered onto the stage one by one, freestyling on their instruments, from the saxophone to the keyboard, until bandleader Rae ran on stage. Looking around the audience dramatically, the artist appeared shocked, but pleasantly surprised by the turnout to her band’s show.
Kicking off the night with their song “Follow Me Like the Moon,” the singer continued by singing greetings to the audience with her signature theatrical voice. Crafting a unique version of songs during their live performances is not new for Rae and the band. In fact, it’s an intentional creative choice.
“I wrote ‘The Feeling’ and ‘Kick It to Me’ and ‘Talk It Up’ when I was very young, and those songs are true to me, but I was, you know, about 20. I'm not 20 anymore,” Rae said. As she matured as an artist, not only did songs take on different meanings, but she started to consider how they would be received in a live space.
“It better serves the songs if we deliver them in ways different than how it is on the record for the context of the live space,” she said.
As Rae moved on down the setlist with captivating performances, the amount of chemistry between the audience and the band heightened.
“Does it feel good to be in a safe space?” she asked the crowd. Following a response of cheers, she and the band played their song, “Whatever We Feel.”
Celebrating yourself certainly became the theme of the night. Not only did unapologetic self love appear to radiate on stage, but also in the audience. Indisputably, the band created a sanctuary as they continued down their setlist, which was filled with songs that also preached self acceptance.
“I want to create an environment in the live space and when listening to our records, where everybody feels comfortable to be who they are and express themselves no matter what,” Rae said.
Rae identifies as queer and has been outspoken about the importance of representation in music. With that, the band’s discography is filled with lyrics that preach self acceptance and love songs that are gender non-specific, and their song “Jackie Onassis” details the joy of a young girl falling in love with another.
“A lot of my songs, it's not specific who I'm singing about, or who I'm talking about, and it doesn’t have to be,” Rae said. “It's enormously important for everybody to hear songs and see media and feel represented. And I think a particular area of needs for that is I think queer people need more love songs.”
Finishing the night off, Rae performed a solo ukulele cover of “Hotel California” by the Eagles, putting her own theatrical spin on the classic song. Finally, Rae and the band transitioned from her cover into their final song of the night, “Kick It to Me.”
As Sammy Rae & The Friends continue their North American tour, many fans are left wondering what’s next for the band. Having successfully completed multiple tours with setlists based on just two EPs and a handful of singles, new music could be on the horizon for the band.
“My hope is, in a couple of months, we could slow down and get into the record making process, but I would love to put out a full length album next year,” Rae said.
Still, to fully understand the project that is Sammy Rae & The Friends, it’s important to know that live performances are where their music and message comes alive. The music they make is only one of the many elements that draw fans in; mainly, it’s the sense of community the band provides that keeps fans engaged.
“If you haven’t heard us say it before, this entire project, this entire community, y’all are the friends,” Rae said to the crowd. “Without you, we’re just a bunch of people running around in circles on stage. We want to say thank you and carve a space for you and make you feel appreciated forever and ever.”