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Let Your Song Be Heard

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Article Published: Jan. 24, 2012 | Modified: Jan. 24, 2012
Let Your Song Be Heard

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale returns to host MerleFest's Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

MerleFest will again host the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (CASC), and its Feb. 18 deadline to enter is fast approaching.

MerleFest 25 is slated for April 26 to 29 and will once again take place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.

MerleFest is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans, gathering to celebrate the memory of musician Eddy Merle Watson, beloved son of American music icon Doc Watson.

“Hopeful songwriters wondering whether they have what it takes should not waste another minute,” said Laurie Brintle, coordinator of the CASC. “It’s time to let your song be heard.”

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is one of the premier songwriting contests in the United States. Previous winners have used the contest as a springboard to launch their career. Singer-songwriter Tift Merritt, previous first-place winner of the contest, said that “winning the contest was the first time (she) was noticed outside of Chapel Hill. I had such a good time and made so many friends there.”

The deadline for MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is Feb. 18 via two methods: U.S. Mail (P.O. Box 121855, Nashville, TN 37212) and Sonicbids

“People pay attention to songs that win the CASC, and it may be the one thing that gets your foot in the door to getting your songs heard,” said Brink Brinkman, two-time winner of the CASC.

Lera Lynn, 2011 winner, said, “CASC is a highly respected contest that not only allows songwriters a chance to network with other serious songwriters but also has the potential to help spread the music exponentially.”

Now in this 20th year, the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest gives aspiring songwriters, like 1993 bluegrass category winner Gillian Welch, an opportunity to have their original songs heard by a panel of Nashville music industry songwriters and professionals and is chaired by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

The contest recognizes winners in four categories: country, bluegrass, gospel/inspirational and general.

To be eligible to enter, a songwriter must not derive more than 50 percent of his or her total income from songwriting or music publishing. Details about entry fees, eligibility and other requirements are available at

Once submitted, songs are judged by a volunteer panel of Nashville songwriters, publishers and other music industry professionals. Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential.

Twelve finalists, three from each category, will be announced during the first week of April 2012. Each of the 12 finalists will enjoy admission and lodging for three nights at MerleFest, will receive a mentoring session with Jim Lauderdale, and will compete on the Austin Stage at MerleFest 25. In addition, the first place winners will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday of the festival.

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 73 deserving students. This year’s recipients are Mary Regina Griffith and Nicole Hampton.

Ticket purchases for MerleFest 25 can be made on the web at or by calling 1-800-343-7857. An early bird ticket discount is available through March 12.

MerleFest features more than 90 artists performing on 14 stages during the course of the event, and a complete list of confirmed performers is available at Additionally, up-to-the-minute lineup additions for the festival can be obtained through the festival's e-newsletter and through Facebook and Twitter.

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson and is a celebration of what Doc Watson calls “traditional plus” music, meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region “plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.”

The annual festival has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

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