Sammy Rae & The Friends visit College to headline Spring Fling

Izzy Polanco

Sammy Rae & The Friends was the first visiting artist to headline Spring Fling at the College since Princess Nokia’s 2019 set. (Theo Duarte-Baird/The Williams Record)

Hundreds of students flocked to Science Quad this Saturday to enjoy the food trucks, festivities, and student performances brought to campus by All-Campus Entertainment (ACE) for this year’s Spring Fling last Saturday. Sammy Rae & The Friends headlined the concert, marking the return of a visiting artist at the College for the first time since rapper and songwriter Princess Nokia performed in Towne Field House in 2019.

Because of the inclement weather, the ACE board called off the planned dunk tank and inflatables, though performances by student bands and Sammy Rae & The Friends were able to proceed as planned. “Our favorite part was honestly seeing everyone come out despite the rain and wetness,” the ACE board wrote in an email to the Record. “We were worried about the weather, but everyone seemed to really enjoy it regardless.”

By the time Sammy Rae & The Friends strode on stage, freestyling on instruments, and the crowd had already been warmed up by the opening act. In an interview with the Record, lead singer Sammy Rae called the audience’s energy “mania.”

“Today was chaos,” she said. During the concert, the audience passed Sammy Rae & The Friends a giant spoon, a balloon animal of Ephelia the cow, and a shirt that read “Williams Bisexual,” which Rae sported for part of her performance.

Before Sammy Rae & The Friends performed, ACE held its second annual Battle of the Bands, in which student bands performed and competed for the opportunity to open for the headlining artist. Several weeks prior, ACE evaluated seven- to eight-minute audition tapes and selected 3 Days Ago, Space Bar, J-Tape, and defending Battle-of-the-Bands champions Pink Banana to vie for the opening slot. This year, after an electric performance that garnered a majority of votes from the live round of student voting, 3 Days Ago opened for Sammy Rae & The Friends.

Drummer Diego Mongue ’25 described 3 Days Ago as the “intersection of free jazz and punk rock,” noting that the majority of its instrumentalists have a background in jazz. But the band is also known for its improv-driven, energetic performances.

The band’s first song of its set, “Sermon,” shifted between gospel and funk-inspired sound and featured lyrics written by singer Sean Bottomms ’24, as well as a keyboard riff from keyboardist Joel Nicholas ’23. At one point, lead singer Jonas “Jonasty” Echeandia ’23 broke into a rendition of the “Hava Nagila,” a modern Jewish folk song.

“I’ve been thinking about that song for a hot minute,” Echeandia said in an interview with the Record. “And then I heard the lick, and the songs sounded so similar… I feel like we just trust each other and that they thought that it was cool enough to keep it going.”

At the height of “Sermon,” Echeandia leaped into the audience to crowd surf, and throughout the performance, Echeandia shed his shirt and pants, only to reveal a set of shorts. “I usually wear a second set of shorts in case I need to play basketball or, like, climb a tree,” he said. “On stage, I was just like, ‘You know what would be super funny?’”

“At that moment, during the performance, no rules of society existed,” Echeandia continued.

The band’s closing number, “Xumba-dueé,” was born in a practice-room jam session. While the musicians improvise the song every time they play it, their Spring Fling rendition included their favorite parts of past improvisations. Its title, band members explained, was devised by band members. “It means ‘Hello, goodbye, I love you, tickle me,’” bassist and guitarist Chase Bradshaw ’25 said.

“There’s a level of craziness that is lacking on this campus,” Liam Giszter ’25 added. “That’s where we come in.” According to its band members, 3 Days Ago will wrap up the school year with a tour that will end at Bates College, with a goal to release live and studio albums by the end of the year.

Sammy Rae & The Friends opened with “The Feeling,” the high-energy hit off of the band’s 2018 debut EP, The Good Life, and students responded in kind. “There’s this exchange of energy between the audience and the band that really informs how the performance is going to sound,” Rae said. “Everybody was with us… So many people in the audience knew the lyrics, and it felt like we were at a headline show, which was awesome.”

Sammy Rae & The Friends has amassed a faithful following without releasing an album yet — the Spring Fling set included hits from EPs The Good Life and Let’s Do a Party, as well as an array of singles that draw on big brass, pop, jazz, Latin, and samba influences, according to Rae. “Part of the vision of this project is that you can’t pin us down,” she said.

The band has undergone several evolutions since releasing its debut EP. Although personnel and instrumental shifts have changed its sound, this iteration of the band has been playing together for two years and has gone on tour twice together, Rae said. Besides Rae, self-described “band-leader” and lead singer, The Friends are composed of tenor sax Max Zooi, alto sax Kellon Reese, guitarist Will Leet, bassist James Quinlan, keyboardist Debbie Tjong, and percussionist C-Bass Chiriboga — the last of whom, a crowd favorite, garnered several chants of “C-Bass” throughout the show.

Tjong, who was absent at the show, was not replaced for the concert, Rae explained. “I knew I didn’t ever want to use subs,” Rae said. “We’re not trying to throw new people into the mix for the audience to get used to or for us to get used to on the fly, because then that family energy just isn’t there.”

Sammy Rae & The Friends’ live performances are characterized by the addition of several of its signature exuberant instrumental breaks not present in the original studio recordings. “James has this awesome saying — that the studio recording is a snapshot of where the song was at that time,” she said. “It’s the version that everybody gets to know and love. But as we grow, the songs grow, and they mean different things now.”

Sammy Rae & The Friends incorporates the band’s style and cohesion into its wardrobe too, Rae said. After learning that rain and wind were forecasted for its performance on the outdoor stage, Sammy Rae & The Friends departed from its usual attire of sparkles and tank tops, instead donning a variety of neon windbreaker jackets and pants to brave the weather.

The wardrobe was derived entirely from Leet’s collection, according to Rae. “He just has an affection for the vibrant color palette of the 80s,” she said. “I brought it all, we laid it out, and everybody picked something and put it on. We wear each other’s clothes very often. It’s very much like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in this band.”