Chris Austin Songwriting Contest names finalists

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Article Published: Apr. 5, 2012 | Modified: Apr. 28, 2012
Chris Austin Songwriting Contest names finalists


Finalists have been selected for the 20th annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, hosted by MerleFest 2012.

The festival is scheduled for April 26 to April 29 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.

Writers of the following twelve songs, selected from more than 800 entries, will compete on the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall at MerleFest from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27.

In the Bluegrass category, the finalists include Louisa Branscomb of Nashville, Tenn., for the song, “Stormy Night,” Ashleigh Caudill of Nashville, Tenn. and Jodi Harbin of Knoxville, Tenn., for “Polly Andrey,” and Jo Ellen Doering of Los Angeles, Calif., for “Anywhere is Home.”

In the Country category, the finalists include Josh Pickett of Cana, Va., for “You Took Me There,” Lauren Staley of Atlanta, Ga., for “Cost of Loving You” and Dale Felts of Hickory, Shannon Slaughter of Trussville, Ala., and Mark Byrd of Elkin for “I’ve Hit Everything in My Life (But My Knees).”

In the Gospel/Inspirational category, the finalists include Richard Henry of Houston, Texas, for “Stop, Look, and Listen,” Mandee Radford of Unicoi, Tenn., for “Halls of Heaven” and Mel Smith of Calgary, Alberta, Canada for “Devil Train.”

In the General category, the finalists include Molly Tuttle of Palo Alto, Calif., for “Walden,” Sara Petite of San Diego, Calif., for “Circus Comes to Town” and Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay of Austin, Texas, for “Are You Still Taking Them Pills.”

The four category winners will perform their songs on the Cabin Stage, beginning at 6:20 p.m. on Friday, April 27.

Each of the 12 finalists will enjoy admission and lodging for three 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 of 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, Lauderdale. Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential.

This year’s on-site judges are Wylie Gustafson, Claire Lynch, Molly Nagel and Amanda Anne Platt.
Wylie Gustafson is one of America’s most recognizable and unique entertainers. As a seasoned singer/songwriter with more than a dozen nationally distributed albums under his belt, Wylie has etched his presence onto the American music scene.

Claire Lynch’s career is bookended by two IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards. In addition to her lead vocals, she has toured as backup vocalist for Dolly Parton and graced albums by Emmylou Harris, Alison Brown, Pam Tillis and Ralph Stanley. As a songwriter, her tunes have been recorded by such luminaries as Patty Loveless, The Seldom Scene and Kathy Mattea.

Molly 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.

Singer-songwriter Amanda Anne Platt is the singer-songwriter behind the up-and-coming Americana band, The Honeycutters. Platt has been hailed as “one of the best songwriters coming out of western North Carolina these days” by WNCW programming director Martin Anderson. Her voice has been described as “perfectly adorned” and “recklessly beautiful.”

The following were judges for the first round of competition during which the finalists were selected: Nathan Nicholson, independent song plugger/publisher; Ashlee Jean Trott, associate producer at Music City Roots; Megan McNair, publicist at Music City Media; John Tumminello, co-founder of Music City Unsigned and executive director of Musician’s Corner; John Oates, singer/songwriter; John Walker, Music City Roots, Daniel Lee, creative director at BMG Chrysalis; Taylor Lindsey, senior creative director at BMG Chrysalis; John Allen, vice president at BMG Chrysalis; Kendall Marvel, songwriter; Jerry Salley, songwriter/producer; and Neil Carpenter, songwriter.

Whitney Holmes, member relations at Americana Music Association, coordinated the first round of competition.

Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest help support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded more than $36,000 to 73 deserving students.

The 2011-2012 Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship recipients are Mary Regina Griffith and Nichole Hampton. 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.



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.

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