MerleFest Announces Songwriting Finalists

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Finalists were picked for the 17th annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest as part of MerleFest 2009, slated for April 23-26 at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

Writers of the following 12 songs, selected from 840 entries, will compete on the Austin Stage at MerleFest on Friday, April 24.

Bluegrass category
“Water Falls” by Wyatt Espalin and Cobi Ferguson; Nashville, TN
“Love Gone By” by Carol Hausner and Coin McCaffrey; Montpelier, VT
“The Old Coal Mine” by Brink Brinkman; Columbus, OH

Gospel category
“I Had A Little Talk with Jesus” by Richard Henry; Houston, TX
“Little Bitty Piece of God” by Jo Ellen Doering; Los Angeles, CA
“Beyond the Rain” by Brink Brinkman; Columbus, OH

Country category
“Maybe You’ll Start Loving Me Again” by Lloyd Wood; Spencer, IN
“Man of Few Words” by Dennis Duff; Kuttawa, KY
“Once Upon a Time” by Tonya Lowman; Lenoir, NC

General category
“Carolina Rain” by Ron Fetner; Seaford, VA
“I Will Fly” by John Smith; Trempealeau, WI
“Unmarked Pavement” by Letha and Miles Costin; Raleigh, NC

The contest is a way 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 chairperson, singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

First place winners in each category receive: a performance on the Cabin Stage at MerleFest 2009, an acoustic guitar, a check for $300, two boxes of D’Addario strings and a 1-year subscription to Acoustic Guitar magazine. Second and third place winners in each category receive performance slots on the Friday night Songwriters Coffeehouse, cash prizes, D’Addario strings and Acoustic Guitar subscriptions.

Songs were judged by a volunteer panel of Nashville songwriters, publishers and other music industry professionals. Judging was based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential. 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.

Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception the scholarship has awarded over $25,000 to 68 deserving students.

Chris Austin, from Boone, N.C., 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. 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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