Frost American Music Ensemble returns to festival stage

AME bassist Sara Keden, Junior, performing at GroundUP Photo credit: Dan Strange
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AME band and crew at GroundUP: Amanda Abate, Carter Vail, Dalton Yoder, Sam Bierman, Anh Le, Dan Strange, Chris Schreck, Ben Youngblood, Isabella Englert, Sara Keden Photo credit: Haley Walker

It’s the start of festival season. Groups of students pile into cars, or sometimes tents, and spend a few days enveloped by live music. One of those groups is Frost’s American Music Ensemble. For AME, going to festivals isn’t always purely recreational – this March, the group will take the stage at Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival for the second time.

The American Music Ensemble is composed of nine musicians, four of whom are songwriters. Students in the Frost School of Music who are of sophomore or higher status have the opportunity to apply once a year to become a member of the group.

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AME songwriter Anh Le, Senior, performing at GroundUP Photo credit: Dan Strange

Anh Le, a fourth-year media writing and production major, is a songwriter for AME and has been a part of the ensemble for two years. Le said one of her main goals while attending Frost was to be accepted into AME.

“AME has given me a lot of chances to grow as a musician, especially as someone who performs live,” Le said. “Anything I’d ever done in music was primarily solo and online-based, but AME has given me the chance of thinking of my music in the sense of performing with a live band.”

The group’s director, Frost professor Dan Strange, ensures the students not only gain live experience through on-campus events, such as Frost’s Creative American Music Fest, but also at off-campus performances.

Last weekend, on Feb. 11, AME kicked off its round of festival gigs by playing at the second GroundUP Music Festival at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach.

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AME keyboardist Sam Bierman, Senior, performing at GroundUP

Keyboardist Sam Bierman, also a fourth-year media writing and production major, performed at GroundUP with AME both years and described the event as the “musician’s music festival.” Combining technical precision with immense creativity, GroundUP artists push musical limits with their performances.

GroundUP allowed AME to be recognized and watched by high-caliber musicians in the professional scene. The band’s next gig at Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival will expand its exposure to an even larger audience with more diverse tastes and backgrounds.

AME performed at Okeechobee last year, where it played an individual set and also participated in a jam session called PoWoW, playing alongside Griz and Vulfpeck.

This year, AME will perform an individual set 1-2 p.m. March 3 on the Pyramid Palace stage. The set will consist of original songs by this year’s songwriters. Le, who also performed last year, said it is incredible to play on the same stage as the musicians she actively listens to and admires.

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AME bassist Sara Keden, Junior, performing at GroundUP Photo credit: Dan Strange

AME’s bassist Sara Keden, a third-year professional studies major, has performed in festivals since she was young. She said a big festival like Okeechobee is interesting to participate in, as a different world exists behind the curtains. Performing musicians get to witness these inner workings.

Beyond gaining exposure, Keden said she is most excited to spend a weekend creating music and memories with a group of people who have come to resemble a tight-knit family.

“Music has an amazing capacity to bring people together, even when it’s just people listening together at a concert,” Keden said. “When you are in a band, and you’ve been working hard together, music creates a special bond that I am really thankful to have experienced.”

If you can’t make it out to Okeechobee for the March 3 set, check out their on-campus CAMFest performance at 8 p.m. April 20, in Clarke Recital Hall. Follow them on Instagram @americanmusicensemble.