MerleFest announces songwriting contest finalists

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Article Published: Apr. 4, 2013 | Modified: Apr. 4, 2013
MerleFest announces songwriting contest finalists

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale will personally mentor the 12 finalists in this year’s competition.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

Finalists have been selected for the annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, hosted by MerleFest 2013.

Now in its 21st year, the contest is an opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of music industry professionals, under the direction of this year’s volunteer contest chairman, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

MerleFest 2013 takes place April 25 to 28 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.
Writers of the following 12 songs, selected from more than 700 entries, will compete on the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall at MerleFest on Friday, April 26, at 2 p.m.:


Aaron Burdett (Saluda, N.C.) - “Magpie”
John Cloyd Miller (Asheville, N.C.) - “Cloud of Dust”
Todd Grebe (Nashville, Tenn.) - “Master of My Destiny”
Melody Walker (San Francisco, Calif.) - “Black Grace”
Lorraine Jordan (Garner, N.C.) - “Judgment Day”
Kelsi Robertson Harrigill (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) - “Just Any Moment”


Daniel Davis (Bristol, Va.) - “Homesick”
Eliot Bronson (Atlanta, Ga.) - “Sad Town”
Michaela Anne Miller (Brooklyn, N.Y.) - “Lift Me Up”
Ryan Tanner (Nashville, Tenn.) - “Days to Think of You”
Justin Wade Tam (Nashville, Tenn.) - “Cold Chicago”
Ben Roberts (Nashville, Tenn.)- “Gold “

Each of the 12 finalists will enjoy admission and lodging for three nights at MerleFest and will receive a mentoring session with Lauderdale. In addition, the first-place winners will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday of the festival.

Distinguished songwriters Matraca Berg, Lynda Dawson and Chris Smither will be among the judges that determine this year’s winners.

Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential. 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 75 deserving students.

For more details about the contest, visit

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.

MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson, who died May 29, 2012. 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.

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