Country music star Kenny Hess performed at Fernie Memorial Arena, on July 15. Ezra Black/The Free Press

Down-home country fundraiser

There was some down-right ornery fun Saturday night as country-music star Kenny Hess played a benefit concert at Fernie Memorial Arena.

Playing guitar, the former Fernie resident belted out some of his hits while attendees two-stepped the night away. There was also an auction and a gigantic 50-50 jackpot.

Hess was born in Outlook, Saskatchewan, but moved to the Elk Valley at a young age and said he was thrilled to be back in the community where he grew up.

“It’s so wonderful to be home,” he said. “I know at least half of the people, if not more. I grew up playing hockey in this building.”

Hess would go on to become one of the biggest names in the Canadian country music scene.

He’s played with Charlie Pride, Don Williams, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. He’s enjoyed several national top 40 hits and 14 critically acclaimed CDs.

He is also the founder of Merritt’s Rockin’ River Music Festival, which takes place in August.

Hess conceived and built the festival from the ground up. The 2017 lineup includes country music legend Willie Nelson. Toby Keith, The Band Perry and Kacey Musgraves are also scheduled to play.

Also at the benefit concert was Kenny’s daugher Becca Hess, who is herself a phenomenal singer and the only one of his four children to have been born in Fernie. During their time in the community, Kenny showed his daughter his old stomping grounds.

“I’ve heard the stories so many times, it’s nice to see the locations where they took place,” she said.

Proceeds from the concert are being donated to the Tom Uphill Manor and the Elk Valley Hospital Foundation.

Sheila Sherburne, general manager of the Fernie Family Housing Society (FFHS), said the funds will be used to make improvements to Tom Uphill Manor.

Tom Uphill provides housing for seniors and people with disabilities. The building needs a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, better lighting and new boilers, said Sherburne.

“Having Kenny come here and do this, it means a lot,” she said. “It will help us come closer to our goal to bring the building’s infrastructure up to code.”