BRIDGEPORT – When Sammy Rae takes the stage this Saturday at the second annual Sound on Sound Music Festival, the blue-eyed, firecracker frontwoman will be stepping out in front of a hometown crowd. The 29-year-old singer-songwriter grew up in nearby Derby, where she honed her impressive vocal skills and musical chops.
A decade ago, Rae moved to Brooklyn to attend Manhattan College, where she assembled The Friends – a tight-knit, seven-piece jazz-rock band boasting two saxophone players. In the past few years, their interactive, celebratory live performances have earned them a reputation from coast to coast. Their latest album, The If It All Goes South Tour, captures the soulful energy and inspiring message of their live show.
The Festival includes three other acts with ties to Connecticut; JULAI and the Serotones, Deep Banana Blackout, and Sunday’s headliner, John Mayer. Tickets are available at Soundonsoundct.com.
CT Examiner had a chance to talk to Rae before the show.
Hi Sammy Rae. Let’s talk about Connecticut.
I could talk about Connecticut until the cows come home.
To get the big question out of the way, are you a Sally’s or Pepe’s person?
You know, here’s the thing. I don’t like take a side, because it was a friendly competition. And if you know the backstory, then Sally’s had the blessings from Pepe’s to get started. So you can’t really take a side, but if I had to, I would say red pie, go to Sally’s, white pie, go to Pepe’s.
Wow. That’s a real Connecticut native answer. What was it like growing up here as an aspiring musician?
I grew up in Derby, which is the smallest city in Connecticut. And there are not too many opportunities for the arts there. But my folks did everything that they could to foster my interests in the arts when I was young. They would drive me to a children’s theatre company in Shelton and I was in all the choirs after school, they found me piano lessons. I played my first ever show in front of a real audience when I was 15 at The Space in Hamden. I went to Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, and I was deep in the art scene there.
But there’s more happening now. I see this resurgence of a live music scene, particularly with an interest in jam music, which I think is really dope. In Connecticut, it’s like, all this great groundwork was laid by Gathering of the Vibes [the popular Bridgeport jam band festival that wrapped in 2015], which is no longer a thing. But there’s so many new venues popping up. And that’s really exciting.
Did you used to go to Gathering of the Vibes?
I did not get to go. It was just a little bit before my time. But I have an aunt and an uncle who live in Milford who the Vibes was, and is, like a cornerstone of their love story…. that they would go to every single Vibes and, you know, chase some of those artists on the rest of their tour. My dad went for a couple of years. So it’s definitely a huge part of my coming of age story.
How does it feel to to be able to a play a big festival in your home state?
Oh, it’s enormous. I mean, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s so exciting. I don’t often get to play Connecticut. And when I do, it’s just an average-sized audience that we would see in every town. I don’t know that everybody clocks that I’m from Connecticut. But maybe one day, I mean, I don’t know, John Mayer is already filling that void, right? Maybe one day I’ll be recognized as the hometown hero. But I don’t feel unwelcomed in Connecticut in the slightest. It’s just that it’s not a state that’s huge on live music, or at least wasn’t when I grew up. And it’s building more of that reputation for itself, which I’m excited about. I’m just grateful that this festival is happening and it’s a step forward, getting more live music into Connecticut. I’m honored to be a part of it.
Do you have any special plans for your set?
Just put on a great show. We’re in the middle of a very exciting tour, trying some new material, some new songs, a new cover song, and some classics that the fans really love that we’ve played for a while. I’m just excited to feel that energy.
And of course, I’m from Derby, and our guitarist is from Madison. And so we’re excited to see some friends and family in the audience too. That’s always nice. You know, grandma’s more willing to come from Derby to Bridgeport than she is from Derby to downtown Manhattan.
Will you play any cover songs?
On this tour we’ve been doing “Long Train Runnin'” by the Doobie Brothers, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by Jet, and a couple of others. We wait to the last minute to make a decision when feeling out the audience, what’s gonna fly and what’s not. Or sometimes you catch a little bit of the other artists on the lineup, and you’re like, “Oh, this is really jammy, let’s jam.” Or, “I think people would really dig a pop tune, let’s give them a pop tune.”
If you could only see one headliner, and you had to choose between Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alanis Morissette and John Mayer, who would you see and why?
It’s tricky. I’m gonna see the Chili Peppers, but we have have to leave the next day to play a show in Pittsburgh. It breaks my heart because I can’t express how badly I want to see Alanis Morrisette and how badly I want to see John Mayer. I’m gonna have to go with John Mayer, just because it’s that hometown thing. I would love to see his vibe in front of a hometown audience, and to see him playing for people that he grew up with, and grew up in front of. I would love to stand there and claim some of that too. So I would have to go with John Mayer.
But it’s a bit sad that we’re gonna miss it. It’s actually a point of contention on the bus. We were talking to our booking agent, like, “You couldn’t just push Pittsburgh one day, so I could connect with the other super cool, famous rock star from Connecticut?” But yeah, I’m sure that all these headline sets are going to be incredible. I mean, this lineup is stacked. And that’s why it’s such an honor to be a part of this.
What’s a memorable concert you’ve seen in Connecticut?
I’m gonna go with the weird deep cut answer here. I saw Andrew Bird way on back in like 2008. was young, in high school, and he was playing in Hamden at The Space, and this is even before the Space Ballroom, this was in the smaller room. And I was this weird Andrew Bird fan kid who was like 14 and obsessed with Andrew Bird. I really idolized him, and it was an amazing experience to see him at such a small, intimate venue. And I only had that experience because he chose to come to Connecticut and play that venue, which meant a lot to me. But also, the Space is one of the only places that you could attend or play a show at when you are under 18, or even under 21. There are not very many venues in Connecticut or New York or Boston or Philly like that at all. So, I remember that being really special.