Share
IOWA Magazine | 06-23-2022

Up-and-Coming Musician Sam Rae Charts New Territory

An accomplished cellist and alt-folk artist continues discovering new ways to reinvent herself.

Sam Rae (11BA) finds her comfort zone in uncomfortable situations. That’s why the classically trained musician has carved out a career that includes everything from improvising electric cello pieces and touring with Grammy Award-winner Brandi Carlile to ditching life on the road and releasing a pandemic-era solo album.

Listen to Sam Rae share how she charts new territory as a singer-songwriter.

Since childhood, Rae—born Samantha Sidwell in Iowa City—has pushed herself as a performer. She began piano at 8, took up cello in fourth grade, and pursued jazz piano throughout high school. During college, where she majored in cello at the University of Iowa School of Music, she grappled with such debilitating stage fright that she needed medication to manage it.

However, this didn’t stop Rae from taking the plunge into impromptu performances. After a “breakthrough moment” in jazz class with one of her life-changing mentors, late UI School of Music professor Ira “John” Rapson, she discovered there were “movable shapes”—arpeggios that create melodies within a song—she could explore through improvisation.

“The challenge of doing this causes a lot of discomfort, but I’m attracted to that feeling,” she says. “You throw yourself into a song, and everyone is watching, and suddenly, there’s a rush, and the audience is right there with you.”

This rush fuels many of the bold professional moves Rae has made since her UI graduation. It has propelled her on stage for experimental solo performances—where it’s just her, with a cello and loop pedal, creating songs she might never play again—and for sellout, multicity concerts as a cellist in Carlile’s band.

Rae first toured with Carlile, whose work spans pop, rock, alternative country, and folk, in 2015 and went out on the road with her again from 2018 through 2021. During that time, Rae says there was “no rhyme or reason” to her schedule. She could spend two weeks on a tour bus and then a week back home with her girlfriend—and now wife—Cat Crutchfield, before flying out for another six-day run. Yet Rae did some of her most prolific composing on buses and airplanes during those tours, typing “a flood of lyrics” on her phone and coming up with chord progressions later.

“That experience was a beautiful whirlwind and teacher,” says Rae. “It was a reality check about balancing life on the road and at home, and it gave me a strong desire to push my own musical ambitions.”

This desire eventually prompted an amicable parting of ways with Carlile in 2021. Rae had recorded her third solo album, Ten Thousand Years, in Seattle during breaks between gigs with Carlile and released it, in August 2020, from her new home in Charleston, South Carolina. A review from Charleston Magazine called the album “an intimate alt-folk slow burn” and compared Rae’s “dusky, lilting alto” to Joni Mitchell or Cat Power.

In spite of such accolades, putting out new work during a pandemic that shut down in-person performances left her with daily mental health struggles and at a crossroads in her career. However, Rae says those dark moments also forced her to think differently about the industry and prioritize what “feeds her soul,” such as spending time with her wife, dogs, and family—and writing and performing her own music.

Now she also dreams of helping to establish more midsize music venues—in Charleston and throughout the country—where people can satisfy their “communal craving” for live music in an intimate setting.

As she continues charting new territory, Rae is following a gut instinct that won’t let her quit. “There’s this moral compass inside me, and it’s pointing to what I’ve heard from so many others, including Brandi’s great guitar tech, Earnie Bailey,” says Rae. “He always told me, ‘Just keep going, Sam. You’ll get it; you’ll make it.’ And that’s what I plan to do.”

ILLUSTRATION: CHIDY WAYNE

Take a spin through Sam Rae’s music:


More Iowa Grads in the Music Industry:

Don Muller Poster

Lollapalooza Co-Founder Don Muller Guides Rock Royalty

Meet the powerhouse music agent who represents some of rock’s biggest acts—including the Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Beastie Boys—and helped create an iconic music festival.

Tuma Basa Poster

YouTube’s Tuma Basa is a Hip-Hop Trendsetter

The director of Black music and culture at YouTube, Basa is at the forefront of music’s digital evolution. He credits the latest streaming technologies with shifting control away from the industry’s traditional gatekeepers and creating more equal access for Black musicians.


Jack Rovner Poster

From Bon Jovi to Kesha, Jack Rovner Manages Megawatt Careers

A Grateful Dead concert at the UI Field House in 1973 ignited an Iowa alum’s remarkable career in music. Today, Jack Rovner is co-president of Vector Management, one of the nation’s most successful artist management companies.

Robin Green Poster

Robin Green Reflects on Shattering Rolling Stone’s Glass Ceiling

Before she was an award-winning TV producer, Green was the only female contributing editor on the masthead of Rolling Stone. Five decades later, she looks back on those wild days as a music journalist covering bands from the Bee Gees to Black Sabbath.


Join our email list
Get the latest news and information for alumni, fans, and friends of the University of Iowa.

ILLUSTRATION: CHIDY WAYNE Click on the image above to view the full poster.

Take a spin through Sam Rae’s music:


ILLUSTRATION: CHIDY WAYNE Click on the image above to view the full poster.

Take a spin through Sam Rae’s music:

Join our email list
Get the latest news and information for alumni, fans, and friends of the University of Iowa.
Related Articles

We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies in accordance with our Privacy Statement unless you have disabled them in your browser.