TRAVERSE CITY— Interlochen Arts Camp was both the best thing and the worst thing to happen to Joe Kwon.
The Avett Brothers cellist was a shy, small-town kid from North Carolina when he attended the camp in 1998 on a Governor’s Scholarship. The experience drew him out and gave him a place where he finally felt he fit in.
“I used to be extremely introverted. I didn’t talk to many people at all until I started going to festivals and realizing that there were other kids like me that played music all the time,” said Kwon, who began playing cello at age 9 with an eye toward a classical music career. “I came out of my shell. I started to realize I could be social.”
But it was also at Interlochen where his dreams were dashed.
“I realized I couldn’t be a classical musician,” he said. “I went to this festival and was amazed at how talented some of these kids were. I knew I couldn’t reach this level of expertise. It was terrifying. I felt defeated, for sure, because I couldn’t realize this dream. I felt like I lost something. It sent me into a bad place.
“And at the same time, I had so much fun there. In one way, this weight lifted off me because it was, ‘Oh, I can’t be a classical musician.’”
After boarding high school at Idllwyld Arts Academy in California, Kwon enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a music scholarship. But by then he’d more or less given up on a music career. In his junior year he changed his major to computer science, and played just for fun, dabbling in new and different kinds of music.
“I worked for IBM and did the corporate America thing before realizing I missed (music). I missed it a lot. I ended up getting into music again and the rest is history,” said Kwon, who joined North Carolina-based indie folk-poppers the Avett Brothers in 2007 and is quickly rising to fame with the group.