Local musician Erik Brunner plays guitar and sings a series of original songs during a recent solo performance at John Paul Park. Brunner is also a part of two bands, one rock and the other bluegrass. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Local musician Erik Brunner plays guitar and sings a series of original songs during a recent solo performance at John Paul Park. Brunner is also a part of two bands, one rock and the other bluegrass. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
It took Erik Brunner a while to get into music. He got his first guitar when he was a freshman in high school, but never really played it that often.

During his senior year in high school, during football practice, Brunner blew out his knee, which effectively ended his athletic career. While he recovered, Brunner would sit around and play his guitar along with TV jingles or songs on the radio. That's when his skill as a musician developed.

"I've never really taken it seriously until lately," he said.

He got a few friends together and developed a band. Now, he's been playing for about 10 years.

Guitar, banjo and mandolin are his main instruments, but Brunner said he'll play "just about anything that can make noise."

Guitar is his favorite instrument, having been his go-to for years. But Brunner appreciates the sound he can get from the banjo and mandolin, which he uses to acquire a blues or bluegrass sound. Sometimes he'll even use toys he's gotten from a restaurant to add sounds to a song.

"I love it. It's all just toys to me. I'm just a big kid who loves to play with his toys," Brunner said.

Brunner is in two bands: A rock 'n' roll group called The Wheel and a bluegrass/acoustic group called The Half Fast Pickers.

He loves making people laugh during his shows. And he loves playing even more. He plays some original songs, but includes cover songs as well.

"It's a good mix. You've got to give them something they know, and then throw in something you wrote," he said.

Brunner spent two years living in Los Angeles and working for a record company. During that time, his confidence grew and he began moving at a faster pace, but he said the experience changed him.

"I was this hillbilly filled with illusions of grandeur, and I went to Hollywood where I was a minnow in an ocean," Brunner said.

He eventually returned home, but got a completely different experience when he taught English in Hungary. Brunner said he could see the effects of Communism on the country and some areas were in greater levels of poverty than he was used to.

"You see this complete opposite lifestyle," he said of Hungary. Brunner cites his experiences in Hollywood and Hungary as "major impacts on my life."

Since moving back to town in 2009, he's taught part-time at Madison Consolidated High School, tended bar and worked for Transformer Decommissioning Inc., where he is currently employed.

Brunner said he's settled on the idea that he's not going to be a rock star. But he wants to make his way through life while having fun.

"I'm trying to find a job I really love and enjoy," he said.