Monday, November 2, 2009

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, Hosted by MerleFest, Now Accepting Entries

One of our favorite aspects of attending Merlefest is watching writers perform their original material for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. The contest is hosted by famed singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale and is judged by a panel of industry professionals. Twelve finalists are eventually chosen - three each for the four categories—country, bluegrass, gospel and general. The overall winners for each category are selected by a panel at Merlefest; in 2009, the panel was composed of Leonard Podolak of The Duhks, Tift Merritt, and John Lohman, Program Director of the Virginia Folk Life Program at the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities.

The contest is open to all songwriters and 840 entries were submitted for the 2009 contest. Many now popular artists received their first big break from this contest: Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, and Martha Scanlan. And proceeds from the entrance fee support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. The submission deadline is February 18, 2010.

Here is the full press release:

MerleFest 2010, presented by Lowe’s, is proud once again to host the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Now in its 18th year, the contest is an extraordinary 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 chairperson, Grammy®-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

Contest entries are now being accepted via the following methods:

  1. U.S. Mail – Send to P. O. Box 121855, Nashville, TN 37212
  2. American Songspace –
  3. Sonicbids –

Details about entry fees, eligibility and other requirements are available at The deadline for submissions is February 18, 2010. To be eligible to enter, a songwriter must not derive more than 50% of his or her total income from songwriting or music publishing.

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 2010. Each of the twelve finalists will compete on the Austin Stage at MerleFest 2010. In addition, for the first time in the history of the contest, each of the twelve finalists will have the invaluable experience of a mentor session with Jim Lauderdale.

The contest recognizes winners in four categories—country, bluegrass, gospel and general. First place winners in each category receive: a performance on the Cabin Stage at MerleFest 2010 (April 29-May 2), an acoustic guitar, a check for $300, two boxes of D’Addario strings and one-year subscriptions to both Acoustic Guitar and American Songwriter magazines. Second and third place winners in each category receive performance slots on the Friday night Songwriters Coffeehouse, as well as cash prizes, D’Addario strings and subscriptions to Acoustic Guitar and American Songwriter.

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.

For additional information about the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, call the contest hotline at 1-800-799-3838 or Laurie Hayes, CASC Coordinator: 336-838-6158,

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 $ 30,300 to 69 deserving students. The 2009-2010 Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship recipients are Ian Tucker Francis and Dustin Rubio-Serrano.

About Chris Austin:

Chris Austin, from Boone, North Carolina, 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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