Gary Gonis: Feature Neighbour

The Bow Valley has its very own The Dude.

Just like The Big Lebowski’s heroic lead character, this local rocks Cowichan sweaters and is more laid back than an evening spent at a backcountry hut.

Garry Gonis plays as Peace on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 in Canmore for the sixth annual Canmore Indie Music Fest in Centennial Park. Photo by Corrie DiManno.

Garry Gonis plays as Peace on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 in Canmore for the sixth annual Canmore Indie Music Fest in Centennial Park. Photo by Corrie DiManno.

While we forgot to ask whether he’s prone to White Russians or not, we do know for a fact that this man has never met a stranger.

Which is why Banffite Garry Gonis is the neighbour to know. A Calgary-transplant, Gonis moved to Banff around 20 years ago with his skiing and hiking equipment and his guitar. Over the past two decades, his name has become synonymous with anything to do with local live music ’round these here parts.

Our Dude is different than the L.A. bowler though: Gonis works hard to promote the musical talent that is either rooted in or passing through the Bow Valley. And he doesn’t always abide.

In the late nineties, Gonis successfully changed a busking bylaw in the Town of Banff, which stated that a busker could only perform for two weeks out of the year. Gonis was eventually given an audience to persuade Council to let a person busk year round.

“Mayor Dennis Schuler’s eyes popped open,” Gonis says of singing a tune he called “Buskin’ to Begun” in Town Hall’s council chambers.

So when he’s not fighting for his right to perform, Gonis has been a bartender and a big believer that watching live original music ties us together, which is why he began the open mic night at Bruno’s and currently facilitates the open mic night at Tommy’s Neighbourhood Pub. Gonis has also hosted eight annual Indie Music Festivals (six in Canmore, two in Banff) and two Battle of the Bands, and has performed in the Canmore Music Folk Fest lineup.

He has strummed and sung in four local bands, ranging from punk to funky fun: Et-Al, Peace, Chicken Wire, and the Ramblin’ HeyHoHas.

In his element, strumming a guitar and belting it out as only Gary can. Photo by Corrie DiManno.

In his element, strumming a guitar and belting it out as only Gary can. Photo by Corrie DiManno.

But the wildest night Gonis has had onstage happened three years ago when Chicken Wire performed at Bruno’s as part of their One Night Only World Tour (according to the shirts they printed for the occasion).

“A boot hit the mando player, knocking his mandolin out of his hands, then the boot hit the drummer. We also had a Christmas tree thrown on us — decorations went everywhere. Now that’s punk.”

Speaking of hardcore, Gonis recognizes how difficult it can be to get gigs in the Bow Valley while trying to make a living.

“You have to work to provide for your craft, but just keep at it and don’t give up,” he says. “Believe in what you do, and others will cherish it even more.”

Which is why we cherish the heck outta Gonis. So the next time you’re in Tommy’s on a Wednesday evening for open mic night, find the guy rocking a ponytail, a hat, and a big smile. Go ahead and even call him The Big Garbowski. Unless you just want to call him Garry, because that works too.

Corrie DiManno

Corrie DiManno

Corrie hasn’t strayed far from the Bow Valley since graduating five years ago with a degree in photojournalism. She lives for sunny days, Wild Flour’s cranberry almond muffins, good jokes, and any opportunity to quote the movie Goodfellas. Her favourite spot around these parts is the Fenland Trail and one of her biggest feats to date is climbing Cascade Mountain in a beat up pair of black Converse.