Ernest Monias in a photo shared to his Facebook page.
Residents of Nahanni Butte are gearing up for what promises to be one of the most exciting carnivals the community has had in years.
None other than Ernest Monias, Elvis of the North, will be performing at the Dehcho community’s rec centre, alongside veteran Dene performer Johnny Landry.
Hailing from northern Manitoba, Monias first gained national attention in the early 1980s after the release of the single If I Wanted You Girl, an instant classic.
Since then, Monias has released numerous albums, played alongside acts such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Trooper and Nazareth, and been recognized with an Indigenous Music Lifetime Achievement Award.
The idea of bringing Monias to Nahanni Butte began as a joke. After hearing some community members laughing about it, two Nahɂą Dehé Dene Band staff members thought: why not?
“We’re like, oh yeah, very funny. But then we just looked at each other and said, you know what? We should try,” said Lory-Ann Bertrand, community coordinator for Nahanni Butte.
Bertrand and recreation coordinator Jennifer Vital are the minds behind the operation. After getting the OK from band manager Soham Srimani and Chief Steve Vital, they began trying to get in touch with Monias. After some online sleuthing, Bertrand tracked down his manager’s number.
“When we were in the process of the booking, Jennifer and I were just looking at each other like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did we do?’ It was excitement but also kind-of the unknown,” sad Bertrand.
“Like… is he really going to show up? We’re very isolated here in Nahanni Butte.”
But when the conversation turned to logistics, Vital and Bertrand started to realize it was actually happening.
“I was going back and forth with his assistant, because they didn’t know how to get him here – what to book to get him from Winnipeg to Nahanni Butte – and we were suddenly like, ‘Oh wow, this is set in stone, he’s really coming.'”
‘He’s got time for everybody’
Monias’ manager, Brent Hudson, said Ernest is unfazed by the complications that can come with visiting isolated communities.
“He’s used to travelling anywhere and everywhere,” said Hudson. “He’s easy like that. You could tell him he was getting picked up for a gig by dog sled and he wouldn’t bat an eye.”
Hudson said requests like Bertrand’s are far from unusual.
“Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, Northwest Territories… they’re crazy about him everywhere,” said Hudson. “He just turned 74, but he’s not 74 when he gets behind the mic, and he still really likes to travel and meet his fans. He’s got time for everybody.”
Not long after securing Monias, Vital stumbled across a post on social media where someone wished Monias and Landry, a celebrated Dene musician, would write a song together. Landry, who blends blues and country with ancestral Dehghaot’ine tea dance songs – and often performs in Dene Zhatié – has been appearing across the Northwest Territories and beyond for decades.
Soon, Landry was in.
“Now we have two of the most well-known musicians in the North coming to play at our spring carnival,” said Bertrand. “It definitely feels like a big accomplishment.”
The event is expected to draw fans from across the territory.
“There was just a wave across social media as soon as we posted about it, a wave of excitement from all over,” said Vital.
“We’re just really excited,” said Bertrand. “These are musicians we both really enjoy and we know people are going to love seeing them in person.”
Monias and Landry are set to perform on Friday and Saturday in Nahanni Butte. The carnival will also feature traditional games, door prizes, a feast, bingo and a talent show.