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The Onlies: Seattle High School Students Make Beautiful Music

Bond Huberman

When it comes to musical talent, there's no shortage in Seattle. The city boasts a thriving indie rock scene, great jazz and classical musicians, and the country's most popular hip-hop act, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. 

But the string trio The Onlies are little outside the norm. For one thing, Sami Braman, Ryan Calcagno and Leo Shannon play fiddle-inspired old-time and traditional tunes. And for another, despite performing together for a decade, none of the three is old enough to have a driver's license.

Braman, Calcagno and Shannon started playing music about the same time most kids learn to read. Their parents are also musical, and it was natural for the kids to pick up their own fiddles and start busking at the annual Northwest Folklife Festival. Braman says the trio took in more as 7-year-old new fiddlers than they do now. "I guess the cute factor is over," she laughs.

The three high school freshmen formed their band a few years ago, playing gigs around Seattle that range from community contra dances to a youth special at the Moore Theatre called "More at the Moore" on May 10. In the summertime, the three teenagers attend music camps, where they find other young people who are tuned into the same music they appreciate.

This winter, The Onlies released their first full-length CD, "Setting Out To Sea." It features traditional songs from Ireland, Cape Breton and the Appalachian Mountains as well as a half dozen original compositions. The trio will perform some of those tunes at the 2013 Folklife Festival.

As their first year of high school comes to a close, the three musicians aren't thinking much beyond their sophomore year at Seattle's Garfield High School. Calcagno got promoted to Garfield's top orchestra, where classical music replaces his old time and bluegrass passion. Braman auditioned for that orchestra, even though she only started playing classical music this past year. And Shannon has his sights set on Garfield's acclaimed top jazz band.

"My death metal phase is a thing of the past," he jokes.