Former Jasper Forms Eight-Piece Band, Sells Out Brooklyn Steel

by Jilleen Barrett, A&E Editor

You may know the name Sammy Rae from their band, Sammy Rae and the Friends, an eight-person music group with hundreds of thousands of monthly listeners on Spotify. Or you may know that name if you were a student at Manhattan during the 2014-15 school year.

For two semesters, Sammy Rae, who was born Samantha Bowers and identifies with she/they pronouns, attended the college after transferring from the University of New Ha- ven, where they were studying music engineering. They came to Manhattan during a time when they were learning a lot about themself and their musi- cal goals.

“I realized I didn’t want to be on the technical end of music, I didn’t want to be an engineer,” they said. “I wanted to be an artist.”

Sammy Rae and Friends, an eight-piece band made of former Manhattan College students, sells out Brooklyn Steel .

They decided to leave Connecticut to study in Manhattan’s School of Education, thinking it was important to earn some kind of degree before pursuing an artistic career in music. Sammy Rae was interested in childhood education as well, an interest which coincidentally led to them later meeting some of their current bandmates at a music-based preschool where they all worked.

During the time Sammy Rae spent closer to campus, they had the chance to be involved with Campus Ministry, spend a lot of time in An Beal Bocht and work with the Manhattan College Players.

“I was involved with players briefly for a couple of productions, I actually music directed and wrote a score for an original score for our production of ‘Shadowbox’,” they said. “So I wrote that score and recorded original interlude and overture music, which was a really fun experience for me during my time at Manhattan.”

After their time living in Lee Hall was over, Sammy Rae decided to become a part-time student which led them to liv- ing off campus while taking classes and working jobs like waitressing and nannying while

building stronger music-based connections in downtown New York City.

While they ultimately decided not to finish their degree, the relationships they had fostered in the music industry during their time as a student at Manhattan earned them the chance to play a few gigs — they performed in Rockwood Music Hall, the Cotton Club, and even produced a record in Flux Studios.

Now, Sammy Rae is no longer searching for gigs on her own, as Sammy Rae and The Friends are traveling across the country to play. One day, they hope to be playing in places even farther away from their home base of New York, like South America and the United Kingdom.

“We’re in the process of looking into a UK tour for 2022. My dream UK venue is the Hammersmith Odeon in Lon- don, it’s a huge goal of mine and a lot of my favorite legendary artists have made their UK debut there so that would be a really exciting one for us to play, ”

“Sammy Rae and the Friends, an eight-person music group with hundreds of thousands of monthly listeners on Spotify.” 

But for now, the band is in the United States, and they have found success here. It took only two weeks for Sammy Rae and the Friends to sell out Brooklyn Steel, a music venue that holds over a thousand peo- ple. Sammy Rae explained the process Sammy Rae and the Friends went through before achieving that level of success.

“We had this run in 2019 where every time we played a show, it was sold out and then the next venue doubled in capacity and would sell out so we started to catch when there was a real demand for the project,” they said. “But the last time that we played New York, we played Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village and it was 750 tickets, and it took us until five days before the show to sell out … The thing about Brooklyn Steel is it’s more than double the size of that venue … and we sold out in only two weeks.”

What Sammy Rae really wants people to know about their music is that it isn’t creat- ed alone. They have what they call a “band identity rather than a solo identity”.

“I didn’t want to be a solo artist I didn’t want it all focused on me, and I didn’t think I could handle it, and I still don’t think that I can, and so I knew that as I was looking for players I

wanted to find people who had really distinct and unique tal- ents and that each of them was kind of like a star in their own way, which is exactly what they all are.”

This mentality was partially inspired by the rock and roll group Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which was one of many inspirations for Sammy Rae when putting to- gether a band of their own.

”So my first favorite band ever was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which is this, Bruce is at the front but there are eight people in that project as well,” they said. “That’s also where I think I developed my love of saxophone outside of the jazz context, and saxophone in a rock and roll context, which is why I have two sax players in my band, which is also kind of unusual.”

Travelling with such a large group of people can be chal- lenging, but Sammy Rae seems to believe the financial and practical issues they face are worth it in the end — especial- ly as the band gains traction.

“I mean it gets tricky some- times, I think,” they said. “[But] thanks to our fan base, we’re having a very exciting and ex- plosive growth spurt and play- ing larger shows all the time.”