Sam Armstrong-Zickefoose was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His first musical experiences were playing bluegrass with his uncles and cousins at family get-togethers, and learning guitar from his dad. He honed his technical skills on the banjo as a student at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, where he focused on exploring its cultural significance and history by performing in the Balkan/Middle-Eastern Music Ensemble, studying traditional Ugandan music, and West African drumming. He was also invited to play with The Spirit of Uganda, an international touring group of traditional Ugandan music and dance. You can see Sam performing with a number of bands all over the United States including Meadow Mountain, Masontown, Grace Clark Band, David Burchfield, and filling in for Bennet Sullivan with Ben Sollee. Sam has always had a passion for collaboration and lifting up other artists. His ability to listen closely, his commitment to fair treatment, and his desire for the strengths of each band member to shine, all make him a strong sideperson. Now, Sam is using these skills to step out of the role of a side person and venture into leading a band of his own.
The crowd-funded album Spark in Your Smile combines syncopated yet melodic banjo lines with Colton Liberatore’s raucous drumming. The interplay of banjo, fiddle, and upright bass is never lost amongst the drum-heavy moments . The influence of Sam’s early bluegrass and old-time experiences, and his exploration of music from around the world, can be heard throughout the album. Not only is this album a product of Sam’s exploration in songwriting, but the first track, “Heart of Mine,” reflects on what it’s like as an adult to begin identifying as queer. The song speaks to the duality of feeling like an outsider because of one’s queerness, while also feeling distant from the LGBTQIA+ community for so long. The track “I’m Sorry” is a reflection on the ways we all perpetuate sexism and homophobia that impact many of those close to us, but ultimately ourselves. The album goes from modern, drum based songs to tender, solo pieces that highlight Sam’s unique touch on the banjo. Some songs feature string-band arrangements that highlight Joe’s D’esposito’s expressive fiddle playing and Jean-Luc Davis’ thoughtful bass lines. Emma Rose Finders, Maggie Liberatore, and Erin Youngberg provide trio harmonies for many of the songs on the album. Aaron Youngberg at Swingfingers studio brings the sounds to life with engineering, mixing, co-producing, and even some synthesizers. Despite multiple hiccups from the pandemic, and an emergency studio fire evacuation, the album will be released in May, thanks to the help of all who contributed to the kickstarter and many more. In his own words “This album is here to introduce my own unique voice as a songwriter and musician while honoring all the folks who have shown me so much kindness along the way.” Sam is currently teaching banjo, writing more songs, and spending his time at a shelter for unhoused people that are high risk for Covid-19, teaching banjo and writing more songs.