credit Ryan Lash / TED

Celtic Connections 2023: Sammy Rae and The Friends

By Elspeth Burdette

High energy and good vibes only from the New York based group.

In the heart of the east end, a stone’s throw from the Barrowlands and the Glasgow Green, the crowd flooding out of St. Luke’s was all smiles. The energy was high, and an overwhelming sense of positivity and optimism was palpable. 

For those of you who have never been to the venue: picture an old church, the patched stonework evidencing its several hundred years of existence. Multi-coloured light in hues of pink, purple, and blue flows through the rounded windows, reminiscent of stained glass. Inside, the organ remains, providing a dramatic backdrop for performances. 

As part of Celtic Connections, St. Luke’s hosted a sold-out programme featuring Rory Butler and Sammy Rae & The Friends last Saturday. An acoustic singer-songwriter from Edinburgh, Rory Butler, opened the show with a solid performance, delivering a set of mellow guitar melodies and pretty lyrics. His three backup singers provided harmonic depth to the otherwise typical smooth indie vibes his songs had. 

As “chilled out” as Butler’s set was, Sammy Rae & The Friends really brought the energy. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Sammy Rae & The Friends had complete command of the stage, and captivated the audience from the first chord to the very last. The group features lead singer and song-writer Sammy Rae, while The Friends are made up of keyboard(s), miscellaneous percussion instruments, guitar, bass, and two saxophones, creating a sound that is self-described as “a mélange of Sammy’s influences, rooted in classic rock, folk, and funk and sprinkled with soul and jazz”.

As a Sammy Rae & The Friends fan myself, and having listened to their discography many times, I was not sure how the complexity of their arrangements would translate to a live performance. But translate they did, and they somehow managed to surpass all expectations. From Sammy Rae’s explosive yet controlled vocals, high kicks, and heartfelt dialogue with the audience, to the group’s wholesome and familial chemistry, synchronised dance moves, and musical virtuosity, they brought enough energy and electricity to the stage that it should have been enough to power all of Glasgow, if not the whole of the UK. It was one of those performances you wish would never end. As parting words, Sammy Rae, quoting the mantra of The Friends, left the audience with a request. So from The Friends, through me, to you, here is your reminder: “go put a smile on somebody’s face, go tell somebody they’ve got a place in this world, go tell somebody you wanna be friends with them”.


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