Slim Dusty still lives on at Kempsey country music festival

TRIBUTE: Amos Morris plays at the Slim Dusty Country Music Festival in Kempsey on Tuesday evening. He is the only artist to have played at the event every year, since it started as a small tribute on the first anniversay of Slim's death. Picture: Laurie Bullock

TRIBUTE: Amos Morris plays at the Slim Dusty Country Music Festival in Kempsey on Tuesday evening. He is the only artist to have played at the event every year, since it started as a small tribute on the first anniversay of Slim's death. Picture: Laurie Bullock

SLIM Dusty’s memory still lives on in the hearts of country music fans, and hundreds of them are in his hometown of Kempsey this week for the Slim Dusty Country Music Festival.

Now in its 13th year, the festival started as a simple tribute on the first anniversary of Slim’s death. On that day in September 2004, about 100 people who had been invited gathered at the property of Kempsey locals Bruce and Trish Woods.

The following year Bruce and Trish were encouraged to hold the evening again with more live music, and a year later wet weather saw it moved to Kempsey Racecourse where it could be held undercover.

It continued to grow, moving to a date later in the year, and in 2010 the festival moved to Kempsey Showground where it is now a week long event.

This year most of the caravans have rolled before Monday and were set up around the showground, where most of the festival-goers camp. For many of them it has become an annual pilgrimage.

But let’s go back to that first evening in 2004, because something this festival has become good at is giving young talent a chance to take to the stage.

On that first night at Bruce and Trish Woods’ home, a teenager named Amos Morris turned up and sang some Slim Dusty songs.

“We had never heard of him,” Bruce recalled this week.

Twelve years later, the Kempsey local has performed every year at the festival and along the way recorded several albums and won two Golden Guitars.

He was back again on Tuesday evening on the showground pavilion stage where after beginning his performance with a string of Slim Dusty songs, he performed songs from his own albums – which have included albums of purely original songs and an album of covers.

This year’s event had kicked off the previous evening with versatile entertainer Justin Standley performing to a packed pavilion. 

While the songs varied from originals to Roy Orbison covers, the unwritten – an unspoken – rule is everyone is playing a few Slim Dusty songs. After all, that is why this festival was created.

Justin, who shot to prominence in 2012 when he was a top 12 finalist on the television show The X Factor, was voted Most Popular Balladeer at the Independent Country Music Awards at this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival.

As the festival continues today, it will include walk-up artists before the Gunbarrel Highwaymen take to the stage tonight.

And most of the artists will still be around on Saturday for the biggest day of the event, which includes the Slim Dusty Family and the Travelling Country Band.

Other artists on the program include Peter Coad and the Coad Sisters, Steve Passfield (who is another Kempsey born and bred Golden Guitar winner), Pete Denahy, Dale Duncan, Rob Breese, Kathryn Jones, Dianne Lindsay and Brian Letton.

The festival, which from the second year was run with the help of West Kempsey Rotary Club, has since been taken over by The Slim Dusty Foundation, which also operates the new Slim Dusty Centre.

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