“We’re in like the throws of touring. We’re touring hard. I never wanna be that cliched Rock N’ Roll thing of, ‘We’re in Rochester tonight, where are we tomorrow?’ but it feels like that sometimes,” says Sammy Rae, laughing. Sammy Rae is frontwoman and leader of Sammy Rae & The Friends, a familial band of friends whose sounds blend their love of and backgrounds in jazz, gospel, R&B, hard rock, folk, funk, soul, and musical theatre. I first met Sammy Rae last August, when she and The Friends were preparing to play a sold-out show at The Music Hall at World Café Live. Well, Sammy Rae & The Friends have basically been on the road ever since and, during a recent phone chat, Sammy Rae tells me that they will be for the foreseeable future: “The last time you saw us we were new to touring and now we’re not. To be honest with you, it’s a lot of this for the rest of the year. We go out in about six days for an entire month and we’ve never done that.” And this is something that Sammy Rae tells me she is very happy about: “It’s all great. It’s all amazing… It’s been wonderful, hopping around and seeing a lot of America with so many of my favorite people.”
Saturday, March 5th, Sammy Rae & The Friends will be returning to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection to headline Theatre of Living Arts. And while the band are currently playing bigger stages, in bigger rooms, to bigger audiences, Sammy Rae tells me that the feeling that the band promotes will remain the same.
“There are certain things that are never gonna change, like it’s always an all-inclusive, everybody-is-invited vibe… But we’ve added Ms. Debbie Tjong, who is such a great keyboardist, a killer keytarist, and we’ve made some adjustments on the behind-the-scenes staff. We have our own engineer to do our sound every night, and someone to work on the costumes, so the clothing is a little more cohesive and wacky. The theatre of it is amped up a little bit… Now we can go out with a bus and we’ve never done that. We can travel with a set, travel with a backdrop, and all that.”
Their upcoming show at the TLA is part of Sammy Rae & The Friends’ Follow Me Like the Moon tour, following the release of “Follow Me Like the Moon,” their latest single, which dropped last month via Nettwerk. The recent single has been in the band’s repertoire for a little while, regularly played live throughout the band’s dates in late 2021: “We played it a little bit live before it was released. It’s really special – we haven’t been able to do this for a while – where we were like, ‘Let’s play a song a little bit, let the audience get used to it, and then let’s drop it‘… In San Francisco two people showed up as the sun and the moon and they had this luminous moon that they threw onstage for me to play with.” And, according to Sammy Rae, the origins of the song go back even further: “I wrote this when I was 16 years old, at a time when I was like, ‘Hmmm, maybe I can write songs.’ It’s one of our manager’s favorites… It’s nice to get an old one out of the cannon and into the world.”
In addition to their headlining dates (Several of which – although not our date – will have the band joined by their good friends, Melt. “We’re really proud of Melt, we love Melt, go listen to Melt!” says Sammy Rae!), Sammy Rae & The Friends will be playing a number of festivals this summer, including Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival in VA, Summer Camp Music Festival in IL, 4848 Festival in WV, and Levitate Music Festival in MA. Curious as to how the band wound up at all these seemingly hippie festivals, alongside so many jam bands, I ask Sammy Rae if she feels like they’ve become honorary members of this community. She laughs and tells me that my assessment is only part of the story: “We are getting on all these jam lineups, and bluegrass lineups, and jazz festivals. So, if we’re on a jam thing, we’re like, ‘Everybody solo twice as long,’ and if we’re on a bluegrass thing, we’re like, ‘Let’s really spend some time on the ballads and maybe take out the hard rock cover.’”
Sammy Rae tells me that she’s excited for all of the touring and live shows that the band will be partaking in this year, but she does admit that, as a band based out of New York, with a history of playing surrounding regions, this part of the country certainly holds a special place in the hearts of her and her bandmates: “We’re an East Coast band through and through, so with big cities like Boston, Philly, New York — which we’ve played so many times and which are some of the first cities that we played — it’s really special to come back to these cities and play such big shows. But it’s all good and it’s all bananas and it’s all great, and it really did happen kinda quick, as humbly as I can say that [laughs].”
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