MerleFest announces Chris Austin Songwriting finalists
Finalists have been selected for the 19h annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, hosted by MerleFest 2011. The festival is scheduled for April 28 through May 1 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
Writers of the following 12 songs, selected from more than 1,053 entries, will compete on the Austin Stage at MerleFest on Friday, April 29:
Tonya Lowman - "Heartwrenching Lovesick Memories" (Lenoir, N.C.)
David Grindstaff, Benjamin Poteat and David Snider - "The Working Man" (Marion, N.C.)
Ashleigh Caudill - "Row By Row" (Asheville, N.C.)
Mickey Clark - "Bakersfield Wine" (Louiville, Ky.)
Lera Lynn - "Bobby, Baby" (Athens, Ga.)
Thom Case - "The Smart Thing" (Brentwood, Tenn.)
Johnny Tanner - "Wake Up John" (Florence, S.C.)
Tony Feathers - "On The Rock Where Moses Stood" (Gray, Tenn.)
Rachel Harrington - "He Started Building My Mansion In Heaven Today" (Seattle, Wash.)
Joseph LeMay - "River In My Heart" (Dyersburg, Tenn.)
The Honeycutters (Amanda Anne Platt) - "Little Bird" (Asheville, N.C.)
Driftwood Fire (Charlotte D. Formichella and Lynn Scharf) - "The Salty Sea" (Ft. Collins, Colo.)
Each of the 12 finalists will enjoy admission and lodging for four nights at MerleFest and will receive a mentoring session with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. In addition, the first-place winners will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday at the festival.
The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is a unique opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of Nashville music industry professionals, under the direction of this year's volunteer contest chairman Jim Lauderdale. Judging is based on a song's originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential.
This year's on-site judges are Wyatt Durrett, Corb Lund and Molly Nagel.
Durrette is a respected songwriter whose credits include "Chicken Fried," the wildly successful No. 1 hit by Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band.
Lund, Alberta's acclaimed alternative country star, has been named Roots Artist of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association for the last five years running and was again nominated this year. Nagel is the newly-appointed general manager of the Asheville-based innovative marketing company, Music Allies. Previously, she spent 12 years in publicity and artist development for venerated roots indie Sugar Hill Records.
The following were judges for the first round of competition during which the finalists were selected:
Donica Christenson - Sugar Hill Records; Tim Dubois - ASCAP Nashville; Sara Johnson - creative director, Bug Music; Casey Kelly - songwriter/vice president, Songwriters Guild; Joe Limardi - program director, WSM; Shannon McCombs - producer/writer/host; Megan McNair - publicist/editor, Music City News Media; Nathan Nicholson - independent song plugger/publisher; Caine O'Rear - editor/co-publisher, American Songwriter Magazine; Victoria Shaw - singer/songwriter and producer; Joyce Symans - membership administrator, Americana Music Association; Joe West - songwriter/producer.
Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded more than $35,000 to 71 deserving students. The 2010-11 Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship recipients are Mary R. Griffith and Thomas Noah Russell. Previous winners of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest include Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via and Johnny Williams.
About Chris Austin
Chris Austin, from Boone, worked as a sideman for Ricky Skaggs for three years, singing and playing guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. During that time, he was discovered by executives at Warner Bros. Nashville, who offered him a recording contract. While releasing singles, including "Blues Stay Away From Me," "I Know There's a Heart in There Somewhere" and "Out of Step," Austin also developed his songwriting skills, as evidenced in "Same Ol' Love," recorded by Skaggs in 1991.
On March 16, 1991, Austin's life was cut tragically short when the private plane carrying him and six other members of Reba McEntire's band, as well as her tour manager, crashed in the mountains near San Diego, Calif.
Pete Fisher, then of Warnersongs and currently general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, and Kari Estrin, then MerleFest consultant and "Pickin' for Merle" video associate producer, initiated the songwriting contest to honor Austin's memory.