The musicians, downbeat from the daily grind at midweek, stream through the back door of the nondescript building in Hounsfield each Wednesday night.
The bass-playing flight instructor, the home-building drum player and the physical therapist vocalist are among them. All are welcomed by Dr. David M. Plante, the veterinarian, Arctic explorer, carpenter, guitar player and creator of this musical oasis.
A visitor who expected the inside of the building to match its ho-hum outside is surprised to find a bright interior with gleaming oak floors, oak walls and cedar ceiling. A 60-inch plasma television hangs on the wall, which on this night beamed the live 12.12.12 concert for Hurricane Sandy relief. In the rear of the room, theres an angled sectional sofa with tables and chairs. Pool and foosball tables await players. A few steps away from the back door, theres a classy bar with a black granite countertop, stools and a brass footrail.
For one day a week, the musicians who come to this sanctum can live a bit like rock stars.
Welcome to the House of the Midnight Sun.
To explain how this all began, we must begin in Canada, in the deep woods of Algonguin Provincial Park in Ontario in August 2005. Thats where the band Midnight Sun first took shape during one of Dr. Plantes wilderness trips. A photograph in back of the bar featuring some guys around a campfire captured the scene when the spark to create the band ignited. Dr. Plante is playing guitar in the photo.
I just started playing something, Dr. Plante said. And this guy (Rex Allen) started beating on the pans that we had, and this guy (T. Andrew Barber) started singing. Then it went click!
Dr. Plantes brother, Timothy S., has played keyboards for the local band Shagnasty for about 30 years. He agreed to be a part of Midnight Sun. Both had an excellent idea for a place to rehearse.
In 2002, construction was completed on the North Country Animal Health Center at 16760 state Route 3, owned by Dr. Plante and his wife, fellow veteranarian Dr. Teresa K. Dewey. Dr. Plante and his brother did most of the planning and building. The facility replaced the North Country Veterinary Clinic next door.
The brothers turned to renovating the old clinic, which like the new center, would have the feel of a mountain lodge.
It was depressing in here, Dr. Plante said of the abandoned clinic. It was all moldy.
The stage in the renovated clinic building is where the dog kennel used to be, which may explain why Captain Morgan, a 5-month-old yellow Lab owned by the vocalist, Mr. Barber, couldnt help sniffing around band members feet on this night, seemingly immune from the loud tunes coming from the stage monitors.
The dog later flopped down on stage, taking in the casual vibe appreciated by musicians and non-musicians alike.
John G. Kent, Henderson Harbor, is one of those non-musicians.
Im just a groupie, he said shortly after arriving.
Mr. Kent said he is also one of Dr. Plantes canoe buddies. This past summer, he was one of five others who joined him in the Canadian Arctic, paddling some of the most remote waterways on the planet.
The first time I ever showed up here, I tried to talk to him about canoeing, Mr. Kent said. We were going on a trip. But when Dave is in band mode, theres no talking about canoeing.
Besides the music and the attempted wilderness talk, Mr. Kent said theres another reason he makes it to these Wednesday night gatherings: I just have man-cave envy, he said. I have a mini man cave.
But not all band members are men. Rochester-area native Cassie F. Buckley, swho joined Midnight Sun last December, was on stage for a few songs this night. The former Watertown resident recently moved back to Rochester but was in town to record some tracks at the House of the Midnight Sun with guitarist and vocalist Ryan Grant of Watertown, who is also part of Midnight Sun.
Who is in the band depends on who shows up to play, Dr. Plante said. Its ranges from six to eight members.
Its just a good time here, and everyone here loves music, Ms. Buckley said. I can see it when they play and I just like singing. It works out well.
Midnight Sun makes rare public appearances and when it does, its usually for charity or private parties.
Weve had the opportunity to play out a lot, Dr. Plante said. But we dont really do it for money. We all have jobs.
The band plays a variety of music, ranging from classic rock to old-time American roots music.
And Cassie really nails a couple of Adele songs, Dr. Plante said.
Besides Ms. Buckley and Mr. Grant, band members who showed up on Dec. 12 were bass player Michael C. Williams, owner of Mike Williams Flight School; Mr. Allen, a building contractor from Sackets Harbor on drums; Tony J. Bova (a former Elvis impersonator) from Watertown on guitar and banjo; Mr. Barber, vocalist, a physical therapist who lives in Chaumont; and Timothy Plante on keyboards, guitar and fiddle. Timothy Plante, Dr. Plantes brother, is in charge of maintenance at the Animal Health Center. He has a background in masonry and carpentry.
He can fix just about anything, Dr. Plante said.
Dr. Plantes wife, Dr. Dewey, a member of the Jefferson Community College orchestra and wind ensemble, also picks up the fiddle for Midnight Sun.
Im probably more of a minor player, she said.
Weve all played music for many years and this is a good place to get together, Mr. Williams said. Its like mens poker night.
Its a wind down for me every Wednesday, said Mr. Allen. I work hard all week.
Everybody loves music, and its a good place to hang out, said Mr. Grant.
Drs. Plante and Dewey have also opened the 30 foot by 60 foot Midnight Sun building to the community. He said the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park has held its holiday party at the building and it also has been used by Fort Drums division retention department.
We dont charge, Dr. Plante said. Its to help people out here and there.
For more than a decade, Dr. Plante has gone on annual canoe trips to the wilds of Canada, most in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999. Last summer, his group paddled the Kuujjua River on Victoria Island, Nunavut, to the Arctic Ocean, passing caribou, musk ox and polar bears. This summer, he plans to be on the Nanook River on Victoria Island and the Soper River on Baffin Island, Nunavut.
Dr. Plante was asked what diversion he enjoys most music or paddling in the Arctic.
I always figure that when I go to the Arctic, I feel, This is where I am me, he said. Thats where I feel like my purpose in life is there. The music is different. Thats where you kind of bare your soul kind of stuff.
Later, as Dr. Plante and the rest of his Midnight Sun bandmates were on stage tuning their instruments, the Rolling Stones appeared on the plasma TV as part of the 12.12.12 concert. One of the Midnight Sun band members wives waiting for the live music to start wanted to know the age of the leaping and hopping Mick Jagger. A Siri request on an iPhone revealed the answer: 69. Minutes later on stage, as Midnight Sun began to crank out the Duke Jupiter song Little Lady, nobody was counting the time. They played until the wee hours of the morning.