MARQUETTE - Upper Peninsula native Jonathan Rundman made his professional debut as a high school junior. His music has been played on radio stations across the country and on "The Ellen Degeneres Show."
Next weekend, he'll be returning to his home turf for a special concert.
Rundman was born in Hancock while his father, Neil, taught there briefly. At age 1, he returned to Ishpeming, where both his dad and his mother, Mary, grew up, and stayed until he graduated from Westwood High School in 1989.
His Yooper roots run deep.
"My parents and much of my extended family still live in the U.P.," Rundman said in an e-mail interview. "My great-grandparents came to Ishpeming from Finland in 1903."
Rundman developed his musical abilities at an early age.
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"My first performing experiences were at Westwood High School talent shows and I got my first professional gig when I was in the 11th grade, opening for folk legend Greg Brown at a big folk festival held at Michigan Tech in Houghton," Rundman said.
"When I was a teenager, there were two excellent local artists, Jeff Krebs and John D. Beck, both from Escanaba, who each made 45 rpm records," he said. "I thought it was amazing that independent musicians from Upper Michigan could make a record. That was very inspiring for me to see.
"Since then, I've gotten to know and collaborate with Jeff and John. They still perform around the U.P. and may even appear at my concert in Marquette to do some songs with me."
After high school graduation is when Rundman's music career really kicked into high gear.
"After graduating from Westwood, I immediately started traveling around and performing," he said. At first he was based in Chicago, touring around the country, earning rave reviews in many national and regional publications.
"I spent a few years living on the West Coast, while continuing to tour in the Midwest, so my geographic reach was pretty wide," he said. "My albums have received good reviews in national magazines like Billboard and Paste, so that exposed me to a lot of listeners around the country as well, and helped with getting gigs and radio airplay."
Rundman's musical travels have taken him to many well-known venues, including the music industry gathering, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
"I played there a couple of years ago when R.E.M. was the festival's headliner. My set was in a small club called The Hole in the Wall, and that night on the same bill were Mike Mills and Peter Buck of R.E.M.," he said. "When I was in high school, I had a big R.E.M. poster on my bedroom wall, so it was pretty surreal for me to be playing in a small club and see those guys out in the crowd, and later in the evening, on the same stage."
Now based in Minnesota, Rundman has been writing songs for years on his own terms.
"My music is not as widely received by mainstream pop/rock listeners because my subject matter and inspirations are pretty unusual," he said. "I'm often inspired to write a song in order to fill a void... to address obscure topics. I've written many songs about rather academic subjects such as geography, media, organized religion and technology.
"I don't have a lot of overly emotional songs."
When he tours now, Rundman often brings along something most musicians don't: His family.
"I've been a stay-home Dad since my first child was born almost seven years ago," he said. "Balancing touring and parenting has been very challenging, especially when we had newborn babies in the house. As my children (Paavo, 6, and Svea, 4) are getting older, it's becoming easier and I'm back on the road a lot more, which I love.
"Occasionally my wife, Dawn, (also a Yooper, originally from Escanaba), and our kids come with me on tour, and that's always a lot of fun."
What plans does Rundman have for the future?
"I'm 39 years old, so I'm interested to see what it'll be like to be an independent musician when I reach my forties. There's not a lot of role models for this career in that age group," he said.
"I'm also part of a new musical project that's really exciting for me," Rundman said. "I'm playing in an instrumental Finnish folk music duo called Kaivama. I'm working with another Finnish-American musician, violinist Sara Pajunen, and we're performing traditional and contemporary folk tunes. The music is quite complex and challenging, and we're approaching it with a lot of energy and sense of adventure. I'm playing guitar, banjo and harmonium.
"Hopefully in 2011, we'll release an album and do a Kaivama tour throughout the U.P."
To check out Kaivama's music and video, visit kaivama.com.
Rundman's music is sold online at the iTunes music store and the CDs are available at concerts or on his web page at jonathanrundman.com.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.