Already legends in the remote town of Matsapha, Swaziland, country singers Gazi “Dusty” and Linda “Stones” find a warm welcome in the American south when invited to the Texas Sounds International Country Music Awards. I suppose all small towns are alike in some ways, and their showstopper “The River” receives a warm reception even if, heartbreakingly, they don’t get the enormous crowd they dreamed of when heading to the US. The annual festival takes place over a long weekend and has musical acts from 15 nations competing in various categories.
Directed by Jesse Rudoy, Dusty & Stones is an often captivating crowd-pleaser that weaves contemporary politics in its backdrop as the duo make sense of a country that is a failure––one they’ve learned about through Voice of America broadcasts, yet proves very different. These moments include the festival’s intersection with a mass shooting at a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, killing 26. Rudoy also captures other fish-out-of-water moments as Dusty and Stones navigate American culture—their trying to make sense of various processed flavors of a Taco Bell breakfast wrap, or more uncomfortable moments such as watching an episode of Live PD that evokes apartheid-era ghosts.
Rudoy sensitively handles Dusy and Stones processing a land and culture they feel they spiritually connect with through music. The most heartwarming moments include recording “The River” at The Rukkus Room studio in Nashville with a professional band and creating a track that deserves play on all country radio stations. They wander the streets of Nashville while working on their first professional recording, having the time of their lives. Here they don’t receive the kind of advice Jessie Buckley’s Wild Rose did in a similar pilgrimage, but they’ve seemed to internalize the message that country music exists in one’s heart, no matter if they’re in Glasgow, Scotland or Glasgow, Kentucky.
In Nashville and Jefferson, Dusty and Stones find acceptance because their talent and authenticity is undeniable. They are not revisiting the old tropes of country music. They know the landscape, even as that landscape is oceans away from the American south. In small-town Jefferson they stand out but find a hearty Texas welcome in the dance halls and bars—partly because they’re both charming.
None of this comes easy, especially when they arrive to find a few barriers and misunderstandings in Jefferson as they work with a studio band. At its core, Dusty & Stones is a film about a dream that comes true for two orphaned guys with a great presence. We also spend a good deal of time with their de facto parents as they prepare for what they hope is national glory in Swaziland.
Casting is as important in documentary as it is in narrative, and here Rudoy finds two engaging stars to carry his film. Dusty & Stones chronicled a journey that occurred in 2017, and it’s my hope they find a home beyond YouTube and success in mainstream country circles. The film itself is a terrific introduction that hopefully, like the documentary hit Anvil! The Story of Anvil, increases curiosity. Met with cheers mid-screening at DOC NYC, Dusty & Stones is a character study rife with terrific music and presence.
Dusty & Stones screened at DOC NYC 2022.