MerleFest Songwriting Contest open for entries

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Article Published: Nov. 1, 2012 | Modified: Nov. 1, 2012
MerleFest Songwriting Contest open for entries

2011's Chris Austin Songwriting Contest finalists pose with host Jim Lauderdale.

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On your mark; get set; write!

MerleFest’s annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is open for submissions. The contest officially opened Nov. 1, and organizers will accept applications from aspiring songwriters through Feb. 19, 2013.

Now in its 21st year, the contest offers 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, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

The first round of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (CASC) takes place in Nashville, Tenn., where entrants are narrowed down to 12 finalists, representing four categories: bluegrass, country, general and gospel or inspirational. Finalists are then invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place during MerleFest April 25 to 28, 2013, on the campus of Wilkes Community College.

Net proceeds from the CASC support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded more than $36,000 to 75 deserving students.

The contest is named for Chris Austin, from Boone, who 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.

To learn more details about the contest, visit
Applications can be mailed to Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, P.O. Box 121855, Nashville, Tenn., 37212, or submitted online at Sonicbids (

MerleFest is considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.

It was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson, who died May 29. MerleFest is a celebration of what Doc Watson called “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles.

The festival hosts more than 90 artists, performing on 14 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
For more information, visit

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