More than a band: Sammy Rae & The Friends creates community for queer youth


Colette Pollauf

Sammy Rae & The Friends played at Royale in Boston March 26. The band is known for its collaborative musical style and songwriting that speaks to the LGBTQ+ community.

Colette Pollauf, news correspondent

It starts with a classic story: a young musician drops out of college, makes a living waiting tables in New York City, sings at open mic shows and dreams of performing for thousands. 

But Sammy Rae is not just anyone: she and her band, Sammy Rae & The Friends, have succeeded spectacularly where so many others have failed. They reach fans through their lyrics that explore deeper sentiments about life and love.

“From a musician, as a person who appreciates live music, she’s probably one of those once-in-a-generation talents that we’ll be talking about for future years to come,” said Jon Singngam, drummer for the Funky Dawgz Brass Band, who opened for Sammy Rae & The Friends at their sold-out Royale Boston show March 26. 

This is a common sentiment among those who have seen Rae perform. She seems to have it all: an incredible voice, the ability to write influential music, a presence that sparkles on stage and the self-assurance to know when to let the other members of her band shine. 

After all, Sammy Rae & The Friends is a collection of seven talented musicians, each with their own background in a different music style.

“So what we have is seven people from so many different studies of music. Some of us come from jazz, some of us come from world and rock ’n’ roll. And there’s a lot of different influences in the room,” Rae said.

That diversity is shown in their music, which resists categorization. Each song comes across as a cohesive celebration of many different styles. 

“What we end up with is this sort of genre-defying amalgamation of a million different sorts of music, and it seems to work,” Rae said. “I think the audience appreciates seeing so many different sorts of people up on stage, and hopefully still sees themselves represented in at least one of us.”

Representation is one of the most important parts of Sammy Rae & The Friends, for both the band and fans alike. Rae is queer, and much of her music explores themes related to the LGBTQ+ community. It also provides representation often lacking in mainstream music. 

“I wish when I was a young queer person that I had a space where … I could go and see myself represented on stage. I really do wish that I had that, and my hope is that I can do that for not just young queer folk, but for everybody, for any young person who is looking for a chance to feel seen,” Rae said. 

Tufts University freshman Max Bennett, a fan who attended the recent Royale Boston concert was asked what drew him to the band. He barely had to think to come up with an answer.

“I mean, it’s very gay!” he said, laughing. “I love that.”

Wheaton College freshman Eliana Goodman, another concert attendee, specifically mentioned the band’s song “Jackie Onassis.” Rae described this song as a story of love and female empowerment from her time attending a Catholic girls high school.

“I just like that it’s a love song, but it’s also just so simple and it’s kind of about everyday moments. I think queer people need to be able to see ourselves in that more,” Goodman said.

While the band’s songs speak to fans no matter where they hear their tunes, many who spoke with The News agreed that there’s something special about live performance, an experience people have missed during the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[Live performance is] on another level,” said Nicki Hayden, another attendee. “The dopamine is real. Live music saves lives.”

The Funky Dawgz Brass Band opened for Sammy Rae & The Friends at two other shows, as well as the March 26 performance. This was the Funky Dawgz Brass Band’s return to live music after the pandemic. Tenor saxophone player Tommy Weeks used the word “electric” to describe the return, and drummer Singngam stressed the importance of live music over recorded versions.

“I think that connection, even though people have seen a band once, we’re never the same the second time, the third time, the fourth time. And I think that evolution really is what feels great to be back on,” Singngam said.

Goodman, one of the concert attendees, talked about the happiness Sammy Rae & The Friends’ upbeat music brings her, especially now that she can hear it with others in person.

“So get together, enjoy music and feel nice,” she said.

“And be friends!” her friend Bennett added, jumping into Goodman’s sentence. 

This sense of community is one of the most easily recognizable parts of Sammy Rae & The Friends’ fan base. Weeks and Singngam were amazed by the overall generosity of that community.

“I can’t believe how many people even stopped to talk to us after [the show] and gave us the time of day, but they made us feel really good. I mean, the compliments,” Weeks said. “They’re giving kindness. There was no tension …  sensed ever in any of those shows.”

That atmosphere doesn’t come from nowhere. The band leads by example, creating that same sense of community among their own members.

“There’s this family atmosphere … which I think is rare, and that’s kind of our lifeblood,” Rae said. “We’re constantly working to be better communicators and better collaborators, and what we have there is great and we offer different things.”

Singngam agreed and said this family atmosphere comes through in the way each band member gets a chance to be in the spotlight when they perform.

“When everybody buys into what the passion of the art is, then it just takes it to another level. And that’s something that few and far between musicians really can achieve together because you have to have no ego,” he said. “They know how to share the stage and put away an ego that can hold people back, sometimes, from succeeding in anything in life and in music especially. It’s very difficult.” 

The band members don’t stop at sharing the stage among themselves, but they give the spotlight to the audience as well. As Sammy Rae reminds the fans during the concert, they are the “friends” in the name “Sammy Rae & The Friends.” Each performance, people gather to forget their differences and unite as one community.

“You can tell that everything in there is just so tight and [the band members] just love each other,” Singngam said. “And that love just flows out through the speakers.”