CAMP WALKER, South Korea – As he prepared to perform for more than 100 Daegu High School students, singer-songwriter Wesley Cook admitted that coming home wasn’t quite as easy as he had expected.
“I’m surprisingly nervous,” he said. “Over the course of a year, I stand in front of thousands of people, but this is a very unique thing.”
Gesturing to the notes he had prepared after a combination of nerves and jet lag awoke him at 4:30 a.m., the performer said, “I feel the magnitude of what I have to say.”
Cook, 31, of Atlanta, has had a taste of success in the music business with two albums to his credit, his own website, regular performances all over the Southeast and a top-four finish in Rolling Stone magazine’s recent nationwide “Street to Stage” competition.
But last Thursday’s appearance was different because he was speaking to students living their teenage years much as he did, when he spent seven years in South Korea before graduating in 1999 from what was then called Taegu American School on Camp George.
“I just want to remind them of how special this is ... and how much more learning you can do in this environment than somebody stateside,” he said. “You’re kind of ahead of your peers because you’re here.”
Cook - who describes his music as “bluesy and beachy and folk rock, kind of” – said that while he did go through a major bout of “culture shock” when he left behind his Department of Defense Dependents Schools background to attend the University of Georgia, he really grew to appreciate his education as an American overseas.
“If even one of these kids feels encouraged or empowered (by my appearance), then I have far exceeded my job,” he said.
Cook soon was standing in front of the student body of Daegu High School on Camp Walker, delivering a valedictorian-type speech about how attending DODDS schools overseas prepared him to chase his musical dream.
Then Cook strapped on his guitar and sang about a half-dozen songs – a mix of covers and his own tunes – sprinkled with a generous amount of interaction with the students.
Art teacher Jacqueline Bishop, who remembered Cook as a young man with “great talents,” said it was clear the students knew they were listening to one of their own.
“There was good rapport and good connection,” she said. “You could tell he was at ease with the young people.”
At one point, Cook asked if any of the students could sing, and invited 16-year-old junior Patrick Waters to the microphone to play a song – and thus Cook’s goal of empowering at least one student was accomplished.
“He’s a great guy,” Waters said of Cook. “Just that he let me get up there and play for him – It was amazing.”
Waters, who has dreams of his own of a career in music, said Cook is a good role model.
“I’ve been here for 10 years. He was here for seven. So, we have something in common,” the 16-year-old said.
Cook appeared at the school as part of a weeklong visit with his father Douglas, a Daegu High teacher, during which he was scheduled to give three other performance on and around base.
Douglas Cook said his son winning a Taegu American School talent show with a Kurt Cobain song “seemed to forecast future events.”
Wesley Cook said he would love to someday be battling the likes of Adele at the top of the charts, but at this point, “I am making a living doing what I love. I’m happy, but I’m not complacent.
“The industry is so different … over the past 10 years,” he continued. “It’s all do-it-yourself. Everybody’s empowered. (Thanks to ITunes and the like), somebody can buy my music on the moon.
“The challenge is not getting in front of Bobby Producer,” Cook said. “The challenge is standing out over the static (of other performers). At the end of the day, for me nothing replaces playing live shows and … having a positive impact on somebody.”