Sammy Rae & The Friends stepped onstage at a sold-out Roadrunner concert on Thursday, Sept. 21 for the fifth leg of “CAMP: The Tour.” Led by singer and songwriter Samantha Rae Bowers, who impressed the audience all night long with her flawless riffs and contagious enthusiasm, the Brooklyn-based seven-piece band brought everyone together with their range of jazz, funk, folk, and rock tracks, making the Boston venue feel like one big family.
The opener, funk liberation band Britton and The Sting, got the crowd going through their authentic and vulnerable songs. The anthem “Church” showed off the charisma of lead singer Britton Smith as well as the powerful voice of background singer Tiffany Mann.
The Friends began with an instrumental intro to “Talk It Up,” before Sammy Rae came out. “Boston’s always felt like a home away from home,” she said when she arrived. Bathed in green light, the group showed off a polished performance of the 2018 song.
After a brief version of Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” to celebrate the date, as well as a playful rendition of fan favorite “Follow Me Like The Moon,” Rae introduced the first unreleased piece of the night: “Luck of the Draw,” accompanied by Will Leet on guitar. Rae revealed that the audience was “the third room in the entire world to hear” the song before the two sang about how sometimes, it’s not your fault when things don’t go your way.
Before their next song, Bowers paused at the piano to sing “Happy Birthday” to a fan. The casual riffs displayed her vocal prowess and dedication to the audience. Later, during a performance of the piano ballad “Living Room Floor,” Bowers pointed the mic towards the audience for the lyrics “I am in my own lane / I will not let myself down,” to which she sang, “Yes, indeed you are.”
Taking a break from the performance to talk about the tour, Bowers explained how the performance isn’t anchored around a release, but instead centers a newly conceptualized world that reimagines the band’s older songs. The acoustic arrangements highlighted the comfortable connection between her and the Friends, who lounged around the set decorated with fake moss, stumps, and trees. Sammy Rae and The Friends looked like the snazziest cabin at sleepaway camp, dressed in a mix of earth tones and bright primary colors, with tenor saxophonist Max Zooi even sporting a royal blue rock climbing harness. The familiar childhood setting made the audience feel at home with the band.
After this brief pause, the band played an acoustic but high-energy version of “The Feeling,” a song from their 2018 EP “The Good Life.” Leet was on his acoustic guitar, drummer C-Bass Chiriboga moved onto cajon, and keyboardist Debbie Tjong played melodica. The next song “David” was from Bowers’s former band Newcomers Club. Despite dealing with issues related to male mental health, the song still ended on an optimistic note, with a switch back to electric guitar, drums, and keyboard that transitioned well into the next part of the set.
After a reimagined version of crowd favorite “Kick It To Me” and an energetic cover of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” the Boston-based strings Nebulous Quartet came out to support The Friends in a rendition of the queer coming-of-age anthem “Jackie Onassis.” Bathed in rainbow lights and with overwhelming support from the crowd, Bowers voiced their support for the LGBTQ community.
What followed was a back-to-back version of Sammy Rae staples “Denim Jacket” and “Good Life.” Sammy Rae didn’t even half to ask before a fan threw up a bedazzled jean jacket for her to wear during the first song, a tradition at all of her shows.
Next the band played “Coming Home Song,” another unreleased track. Bowers taught the audience the bridge for a powerful sing-along moment. “I was falling and I picked me up, I picked me up, I picked me up” rang out through the venue as Bowers improvised over the top of the track.
Following a powerful rendition of the 2023 single “Closer to You,” the group left the stage before being thunderously called for an encore. Bowers came out alone with an acoustic guitar, singing Rod Stewart’s “Ooh La La,” which she dedicated to her grandfather in the audience.
The night finished with a long, celebratory rendition of “Let’s Throw A Party," as Bowers highlighted each band member, stressing how they are really The Friends, not just Sammy Rae.
At the end of the night, fans were left with a true sense of community, fostered by the band's crowd interaction, “campy” feeling, and soulful music. Despite sharing some serious themes, the group never took themselves too seriously, allowing the audience to just enjoy the moment.
Although this tour wasn’t centered around a release, the mix of Sammy Rae’s staples and unreleased songs allowed for a memorable experience, leaving fans excited for what’s to come.