At 4:45 a.m. each weekday, Mark Christensen pulls into Jefferson Elementary School, brews a cup of coffee and gets started on his daily tasks as one of the school’s two custodians.
By 2:10 p.m., he’s headed home.
Many of Christensen’s days are alike, following similar patterns and parallel routines.
His nights are anything but routine.
For more than 15 years Christensen has worked the stages of countless bars and venues as the lead vocalist and guitarist of the Bus Boys, a local acoustic jam trio — composed of three former school-bus drivers.
The band came together in the mid-’90s and continues to perform today, though all three have since found new occupations. The group has stayed together despite individual challenges and has developed a style of playing together that appears effortless.
“We don’t even practice,” Christensen said, reflecting on the group’s last performance, at the Hei-N-Low. “We just get together and sound great.”
Bassist Dedrick Benz agreed.
“Everything goes like clockwork,” Benz said. “Every gig is a good gig.”
Christensen started playing guitar at 11. He learned by ear, listening to the tunes played during timeouts at the football and basketball games his father watched. His older brother, Tony, taught him his first chords. He tried lessons but quickly realized he didn’t adapt well to the structure.
Christensen played in several bands as a teenager and experimented with a variety of instruments and has continued to make music through his adult years. When he’s not playing with the Bus Boys, Christensen works in his studio creating songs for an independent filmmaker and for a variety of occasions.
Over the years he’s written personalized birthday songs, funeral songs, love songs and even fishing songs for “anyone that asks.”
“It’s something goofy I do on the side,” Christensen said. “It’s fun surprising people with their own songs.”
Mark’s wife, Dawn, said she loves to listen to her husband play. Now that their son, Riley, is older, Dawn said she is happy she can listen to Mark play live more often.
“I am very proud of him,” she said.
In the basement of his bright red Winona home on a recent weekday, Christensen turns on his mixer, plugs in his microphone and begins to play. Dozens of guitar cases scatter the room furnished with a collection of music equipment: an electronic keyboard, a drum set, a wooden music stand.
A large plush bear-patterned rug covers the floor’s bare tiles and a variety of soundproofing foam pads are staggered across the walls.
“I can’t imagine my life without it,” Christensen said. “I think everything would be boring without it.
“I think everyone needs music in their lives. Makes for a happier lifestyle.”