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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Sammy Rae & The Friends transport their campground to Roadrunner

The pop funk band played to a sold out crowd on Sept. 21.

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Samantha Bowers of Sammy Rae & The Friends is pictured.

Sammy Rae & The Friends recently returned to Boston with their musical creativity and all-encompassing positivity. Selling out Roadrunner on Thursday, Sept. 21 for one of the first stops of their fall headline tour, the band played new arrangements of familiar favorites while also trying out new material ahead of a debut studio album. Sammy Rae & The Friends followed opener Britton & The Sting and were backed by the Nebulous String Quartet.

The group maintained a “camp” theme that matched the energy of cozy, warm, inclusivity that the band radiates. Lead singer Samantha Bowers dressed as a park ranger, “The Friends” dressed as campers, and a tent and trail markers adorned the stage. The camp theme did not only pertain to fashion though, as in some cases it strongly influenced the musical arrangements of songs. For the performance of “The Feeling” (2018), keyboardist Debbie Tjong confidently took up the melodica, an instrument typically meant for children. With a child-like grin, drummer Sebastian “C-Bass” Chiriboga left the drum set to bang on the cajón, a wooden box that the player sits on and slaps. Alto saxophonist Kellon Reese sat next to Tjong at the “campsite,” playing shakers and the flute. While no great musical innovation, this arrangement of more casual and communal instruments brought a relaxed “campfire” vibe to the song. Even though “The Feeling” suffered musically from the loss of backup singers Myra Moon and Kaya Kulu, Sammy Rae & The Friends were wise to use this laid-back and campy arrangement to focus on good-natured fun and warmth over the vocal prowess demonstrated on the record version of the song. 

Sammy Rae & The Friends
Courtesy Vibha Kamath

James Quinlan on bass for Sammy Rae & The Friends on Sept. 21.

After opening the concert with standard arrangements of “Talk It Up” (2018), “Follow Me Like the Moon” (2022) and a brief cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September” (1978), the group debuted “Luck of the Draw,” their first new song for the night. Co-written by Bowers and lead guitarist Will Leet, “Luck of the Draw” dips more heavily into the blues than past Sammy Rae songs. While the grungy repeated blues cadences debuted a new palette for the group, the heart of the song lies in Leet and saxophonist Max Zooi shredding solos on guitar and tenor sax, respectively. This improvisational flair of Leet and Zooi marked a highlight throughout the entire concert, with only Bowers’ vocal escapades matching Leet and Zooi in musical excellence. 

After the piano ballad “Living Room Floor” (2020) and the band’s goofy rendition of “The Feeling,” Bowers switched to solo acoustic guitar to play “David,” a song that was new for the band. Grappling with the problems of male loneliness, “David” reflected Bowers’ commitment to including everyone in her community and tackling issues of mental health in her songwriting. After a few choruses solo, the band progressively faded in to support Bowers on “David,” with Tjong now on accordion and C-Bass still having the time of his life banging the cajón. The song formed a powerful statement.

Sammy Rae & The Friends
Courtesy Vibha Kamath

Max Zooi from Sammy Rae & The Friends on tenor sax on Sept. 21.

The night then transitioned to a classic upbeat rendition of the band’s much-loved song “Kick It To Me” (2018), as well as a cover of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” (2003). Leet stood out again with an absolutely killer solo on “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” 

Before beginning the beloved anthem “Jackie Onassis” (2020), Bowers triumphantly declared to the audience, “isn’t being queer the most wonderful thing that there is?” A two-part absolute acceptance of self and joy accompanied by musical luminosity, “Jackie Onassis” in many ways represents the heart and purpose of the band. Despite playing the standard arrangement and not bringing many new ideas to the table, how can a performance of “Jackie Onassis” not be a focal point of a Sammy Rae & The Friends concert? The catharsis of joy brought by the song is a prime example of experiencing Sammy Rae’s music.

Sammy Rae & The Friends
Courtesy Vibha Kamath

Sammy Rae & The Friends pictured Sept. 21.

Nearing the end, Bowers showcased her final new song of the night, “Coming Home Song.” Set against a more funk and soul-inspired musical landscape, “Coming Home Song” addressed issues of mental health. Before wrapping up, Bowers sang a heartfelt cover of Rod Stewart’s “Ooh La La” (1998) in dedication to her grandfather, who was supporting her in the audience. The band then departed on a high with their aptly chosen final song, “Let’s Throw A Party!” (2021).

From dopey campiness to deep-seated reflections on mental health, all backed by exquisite musical talent, Sammy Rae & The Friends did not disappoint in bringing their commendable mantra to Boston once more: “Go put a smile on somebody’s face, go tell somebody they’ve got a place in the world, go tell somebody you wanna be friends with them.