Words & Photos by Anthony Abu-Hanna

Let’s Throw a Party!

It was a homecoming in New Haven just hours before the Super Bowl. Except this one wasn’t for a team, it was for a band. Connecticut native Sammy Rae Bowers and her band, Sammy Rae & The Friends, threw a party to celebrate their first ever hometown headlining show. And did they celebrate in style. 

What homecoming is complete without a Mardi Gras celebration? Certainly not this one. Connecticut’s own Funky Dawgz Brass Band got the party started with their funky New Orleans inspired second line horns. Opening up with ‘Turn It Up Tommy’ into their hit ‘Black is Black’, the band’s sousaphone player and drummer led the groove while their trumpet and saxophone players took turns exchanging melodies and solos. These feet moving rhythms made New Haven feel like New Orleans on a Saturday night. While the band played a quick set for an opener, one absolute highlight was their horn-wailing cover of ‘Love Don’t Cost A Thing’. The Dawgz, UCONN alums, wound down their set with a bumping ‘Live Ya Life’ that turned the crowd up and anxious for Sammy Rae & The Friends. 

Sammy Rae took the stage to ravenous cheers and applause as she turned around to show off her “203” shirt, showing her love for her hometown, before immediately kicking things off with ‘Talk It Up’. This band knows how to have fun on stage, and it’s evident in everything they do from Sammy running around on stage, choreographed dance moves, or the band members having fun with one another. It’s plainly visible when you see this band that they are all the best of friends. 

‘Follow Me To The Moon’ and ‘Jackie Onassis’ quickly followed with a frenetic energy that only Sammy Rae can deliver. College Street Music Hall was reverberating with 2,500 fans belting out every word of the band’s songs at the top of their lungs. This show was a celebration not only of coming home, but also of new music. The band has been steadfastly working on putting together their first full-length album and treated fans to some new music, the first – a song called ‘Luck of the Draw’, was played for its second time ever. A slower song, not dissimilar from a ballad, that serenaded this crowd with Sammy’s infectious vocals and wordsmithing. 

Sammy Rae, conversing with the audience, talked about how she’s from about fifteen minutes down the road and attended one year of college at University of New Haven before dropping out and moving to New York to chase her dream of becoming a singer. It was also a homecoming for her guitarist, Will Leet, who grew up twenty minutes down the road in Madison. The band led into some re-composed versions of fan favorites – Living Room, The Feeling, The Box, and dance number Kick It To Me. 

What would a homecoming concert be if both Connecticut bands didn’t share the stage together? Still a fun one, but with a massive missed opportunity. Sammy Rae & The Friends brought the Funky Dawgz back out for a cover that showed just how many generations the fan base spans. The older Millennial crowd, upon hearing the drum beat and first few notes erupted. The younger Gen Z fans were excited, but not in a way the older crowd was. The two bands launched into a raucous cover of Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ with half the audience singing along word for word and half the audience just grooving along to a song they didn’t know. As fast as they were on stage, the Dawgz were gone and it was time for another new song.

‘Thieves’. A heavy, for this band, number inspired by mid-90’s grunge, saw Sammy bouncing around on stage with her bandmates filling in numerous harmonies. This song was easily the stand-out of the new songs that were debuted this evening. A couple of songs to go, and Sammy started talking about her favorite ‘Denim Jacket’, one that she wrote a song about – and subsequently played, all the while twirling around on stage along side all of her friends. 

All homecomings must come to an end and this one’s time was near. But there was still time for another new song – ‘State Song’. This one was a tribute to home. To Connecticut and New Haven. As a personal note, this song stood out because Connecticut is amazing and has so much to offer besides pizza and taxes. And this song is a testament to that. But I digress, and it’s time to get back to the action – as the band launched themselves into a fun cover of ABBA’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ to turn the energy up as this night was coming to an end. 

But that wasn’t it. This show was an ode to home and it was fitting that the band ended the night on their newest single – ‘Coming Home Song’. Sammy Rae & The Friends took the crowd on an education of harmonies and melodies as she conducted the audience with the chorus and hook of the song all the way until the house lights came on…

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