Hailing from Seattle, Washington, The Onlies’ eclectic assortment of fiddle-driven music bridges Celtic, traditional bluegrass, and contemporary Canadian and American tunes to create a sound all their own. Multi-talented members Leo Shannon, Riley Calcagno, and Sami Braman are Garfield High School juniors who’ve literally played together since they were two years old. These young talented musicians bring powerhouse vocals and a variety of instruments to the table in their performances, and the Northwest Folklife is honored to share more about this dynamic trio, so read the Q&A below!
Tell us about yourselves!
(Sami) We are a Seattle-based trio with our hearts rooted in old music from Appalachia, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada. We also write fiddle tunes and songs, creating a contemporary, original sound. By entrenching ourselves in authentic music traditions, we can move that music tradition forward. We started fiddling at five and would set out our cases at Folklife to busk. Since then, we’ve played with musicians as cool as Elvis Costello and as un-cool as old, toothless Kentucky banjo-pickers (who, we realized, are actually the coolest of all).
Why do you do what you do?
(Leo) The three of us have grown up surrounded by American, Irish, and Cape Breton traditional music and going to various folk festivals in the Northwest, so playing the music was a natural next step. As we encountered more people in the trad music community, we all were inspired to dedicate our lives to playing this music. Now, with strong connections formed (both to the music and to the people who we’ve met through it), traditional music is such an integral part of our lives that we couldn’t ever imagine stopping.
If you could explain your work in three words, what would they be?
How have you been involved in your art form’s practice or evolution?
(Riley) Traditional music is a living and oral music. We have been fortunate enough to proverbially and literally sit at the feet of the masters of the traditions we are part of and soak in the music and culture just as people have been doing for hundreds of years, elder to youth. It is festivals like Folklife that have enabled us to do this.At the same time, we have also collaborated with many musicians to take tradition in new places, combinations of music and ideas that are now part of this living music.
We know you have been involved with Northwest Folklife for some time now – what do you think you have you learned or discovered by participating in Northwest Folklife?
(Leo) That there is a local community of people who have dedicated themselves to playing and preserving traditional art forms, and will support and encourage, and best of all, play with us!
Do you think Northwest Folklife has an influence on our greater community?
(Sami) Whenever a city holds a massive festival geared toward sharing music from different cultures and traditions, the inspiration, community, and music will permeate the barriers of the festival and into the greater community. This is exactly what we’ve seen happen with our experiences at Folklife. When we leave Folklife, we know we’ll see that community of folk artists and musicians outside of Seattle Center. We know that we’ll come across them at different local events and the inspiration will continue. Northwest Folklife makes Seattle a hub of folk culture, music, and creation.
With the fast-approaching second annual Seattle Children’s Festival in-mind, do you think kids need Northwest Folklife arts and culture programs?
(Riley) We don’t think we can speak for all kids, but we can say that we needed Folklife (and still do). It was a place to learn about cultures entirely different from our own and watch musicians we looked up to play music we found out that we loved. Folklife is a place for all ages to learn about the world in a way that goes so far beyond sitting in a classroom. If every kid in Seattle got to take part in Folklife, those kid’s lives would be deeply enriched.
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