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Sammy Rae & The Friends return to Ithaca for Sunday night show at State Theatre

Sammy Rae & The Friends
Sammy Rae & The Friends

Three years after performing at Ithaca College, Sammy Rae & The Friends return to Ithaca to play at the State Theatre on Sunday night.

Led by Sammy Rae (born Samantha Bowers in 1994), the band draws from a variety of influences – rock, pop, folk, jazz, and soul – and blends them into a unique sound that’s delivered in an energetic fashion. Especially on stage, as demonstrated on the band’s new album, “The If It All Goes South Tour (Live),” which was recorded at a variety of shows on that tour.

In a recent Zoom interview from Rhinebeck, New York, Sammy Rae talked about her musical influences, the band’s evolution since its beginning, and why they recently put out a live album.

Q:  Have you been to Ithaca before?

SR: Yes, we played Ithaca College, which was a great deal of fun. And we were totally surprised by how excited everyone was to have us there. That was a really cool show. That was also one of the first big college shows that we played. So we were very proud to get to drive out of the city to go all the way to Ithaca, where it was just beautiful.

Q: I always try to get people to check out stuff that they might not know about, so I wanted to talk to you and let people know about your show.

SR: That’s kind of you – thank you, thank you. I'm actually surprised as time goes on that we're acquiring more of a fan base, which is roughly sort of like your demographic. I think it's a combination of two things where we do a lot of covering music, but it's more from your generation and our parents’ generation. It's just fun for us to play stuff I totally grew up on. In that way, we're accessing this demographic, but additionally, our college-age fans seem to be getting younger, too, which is kind of expanding on both ends so our fanbase starts to get kind of wider and fill out a little bit, which is special, and we're grateful. It’s just awesome.

Q: I wanted to ask you about your cover songs since you have a few of them on your new live album, but they're all from different genres. It's not just classic rock stuff, you also do a Garth Brooks song ("Friends in Low Places"), a Cher song ("Believe"), and an Eagles song ("Hotel California"). So, what makes you decide to cover a particular song?

SR: I listened to a little bit of everything, as you can tell, and I’ll just find a song and think, “It’d be cool if the band could rearrange that in our style.” I guess I’m really looking for a song that I think has a full band sound and also the potential that it could be made into something that's catchy. Also, I hope that people are going to know it so that I don't have to play it exactly how the original record is in order for the audience to catch on, or something that's just similar enough that it's got an earworm that everybody knows, but it's got space for us to make it our own.

Q: But you have a lot of original songs, too. And I was very impressed by a couple of things. One is a versatile your band is, and then how freely and unabashedly you sing. Have you always been able to do that, or is that kind of something you grew into?

SR: Yeah, I mean, it's something that anybody grows into – figuring out what their sound is, right? Like, I think I've always had a great ear for how good or not good something is. And I think I've always had a good knowledge of how to sing safely so I can continue to do it where it’s unrestrained. But it takes everybody a while to figure out what their sound is, and kind of grow into their sound.

Q: Has your band’s sound evolved in the seven years you’ve been together?

SR: We've just gotten tighter. There's been a couple of personnel changes from the very beginning, since about 2016 or so. But we've been the unit that we are for all the heavy touring years, which are the last two years or so. And, yeah, it has evolved in that you learn from each other, and you learn about yourselves. I like to get hip to something new. And the band might get hip to something new so we’ll start to teach each other: “Hey, you know about this?” or “Why don't we try this stuff?” So we inform each other’s sound, and we learn from each other. But also, we're growing as individual music consumers all the time in our own ways

Sammy Rae & The Friends
Sammy Rae & The Friends

Q: You just put out a new live album, but it’s a collection of songs from various shows, rather than just one show.

SR: It's a collection of various shows from the “If It All Goes South” tour, which is the last world tour that we went on. We called it a world tour, even though it was just the U.S. and the U.K. It was a really, really special tour, and we just tried a lot of new stuff

When COVID hit, we were just about to come into our big touring years. And then obviously, we weren't able to tour, so we put out an EP during that lockdown time. And then when we were able to tour again safely, we were really just touring old material. Because just the way that block of time worked out for us, we had one EP that was out and we had put out a new EP, but we didn't have an album yet, it was just these couple of EPs in between that first big tour and the “If It All Goes South” tour.

Since then, we've put out a couple more singles but there are still quite a few cities that we've never hit before or never got sort of traction of where we are now, so we are still playing music that we put out four years ago because two of those years didn't exist.

But what we wanted to do with this “If It All Goes South” tour was try to revamp stuff and try stuff that we hadn't tried. And we just kept thinking about this theme of “If It All Goes South, we had a lot of fun,” which was a lyric from one of our songs. It was a lot of throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick, and we also were trying to expand stuff that we had done the same way for years and years.

And we were really impressed by what we got with the reimagining of the live show. We are a band that is so heavily live-focused – there's so much energy on stage and we do our best to capture that in the albums, and vice versa where we do our best to pay homage to the albums on the stage. But it was just time that we captured not only how clean our music is in the studio but also the messy and free energy that we bring on stage. So just felt it just felt right to make a live album out of this tour in particular.

Q: What spurred you to call this current tour “The Camp Tour”?

SR: This was a fun sort of world to start to build because this is the first time we're going on a large-scale tour that we're not grounding in a single release or an album release or an EP, so we could do whatever we wanted with this one. And camp and campiness is kind of a descriptor that's been put on our band by a lot of different press outlets and something that we hold with pride. It just doesn't take itself too seriously. There's a great deal of authenticity, trying new things, and embracing the inner child; there's a lot of playfulness.

So, we thought, “What would it be like if we used the word ‘Camp” and built a tour around that?" And of course, it calls to mind the outdoors, sort of like a campsite, which is what we're trying to generate on stage. When you walk in, you feel like you're at a campsite. We're very interested in building full-world experiences in our concerts. And we thought bringing that kind of the great outdoors indoors, coupled with the campiness that we're going to bring them, created a really cool world that we could effectively build for our audiences to live in for this whole tour.

If You Go

Who: Sammy Rae & The Friends, with Trousdale opening

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24

Where: State Theatre of Ithaca

Tickets: $35, available online here and at the State box office

Event Info

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, and its affiliates.