Two Fridays ago, Kansas City was graced with the magical presence of Sammy Rae & The Friends, an alternative funk/jazz rock band on tour around the world. Originally from New York City, Sammy Rae & The Friends have found themselves a long way from home in order to provide the Madrid Theater in Kansas City with a sold-out show and an unforgettable experience.
The tour took on the theme “Camp” and not the kind of camp that Karlie Kloss might look right in the eye at the Met Gala, but the camp that demands a colorful handkerchief tied around your neck, your best dad-cap, a slather of sunscreen, and a giant bag of trail mix. The stage was decorated wonderfully with fake plants, a woody backdrop, and the central mic stand being absolutely covered in friendship bracelets brought in by fans. Take this, then factor in that the vast majority of the audience was dressed to the theme, and you have a whole room packed with people ready to hit the trail.
And hit the trail we did. Fleece, a Canadian neo-psychedelia funk band, led the way as they took to the stage with the energy one might expect from your favorite queer camp counselor. The quartet brought a contagious energy with them onto the stage, and while dressed perfectly for the occasion, their set featured small costume changes, a “Bennie and the Jets” cover, and some of the smiliest stage work I’ve ever seen. It looked like they were having as much fun as the audience, which is always great to see. I highly recommend Fleece if you’re looking for new feel-good groovy tunes to add to your rotation.
When Sammy Rae & The Friends took to the stage, my notes (which were pretty sensible and concise up until now) divulged into a mess of capital letters and screaming by means of smashing the keyboard of my phone without looking, as I didn’t want to miss anything that was happening up on stage. The band immediately had the audience’s attention as they entered onto the dark stage with lanterns, gathering their respective instruments, and jumping into song. Sammy, within literal seconds, was able to get the audience jumping up and down as she made bending backwards while belting some impressive vocal runs look easy. The entire band was so expressive and active, making great use of the stage while absolutely tearing it up on their respective instruments. As someone who hadn’t seen them perform before, I was initially a little stunned at the immediate show of unbridled talent, but I quickly settled for the ride I was in for.
Sammy, after the whirlwind of an introduction, took some time to encourage the audience to feel present in the moment, a theme that would be consistent throughout the show. In between some of the most impressive saxophone, bass, drum, and keyboard performances I’ve ever seen live, graciously provided by Kellon Reese, Max Zooi, James Quinlan, Debbie Tjong, Will Leet, and C-Bass Chiriboga, are some of the most heartfelt heart-to-heart moments I’ve seen at a show. I jokingly wrote it down as “the jazziest grounding session I’ve ever had,” but the Sammy Rae & The Friends mantra and mission statements are no joke. Sammy throughout the show would take time to talk with the audience, once they even quickly ran down to the barricade to hug a fan who had started to cry during a song. They preached the importance of mental health awareness, patience with yourself, taking care of one another, and even sung a few new songs yet to be released centered around that position of love, telling the audience the lyrics in advance so that we could all sing together. Those lyrics being “I was falling, and I picked me up.”
The Sammy Rae & The Friends mantra is as simple as “Go put a smile on someone’s face.” Normally, I have a hard time believing bands actually follow through on their mantras or mission statements, but this is an exception in every way. At the end of the night, as we started to leave, almost everyone in the crowd had a smile plastered on their face as we filtered out onto the street.
Fleece and Sammy Rae & The Friends are gems, and I implore you to check them out and see if you can catch one of their future shows. It’s a wonderful time full of really good people. If you’d like more Sammy Rae content, our communications director and also our photographer for this concert, Abbey, conducted an interview with Sammy that you can check out right now on the website.