Thursday, January 31, 2013

Judges Announced for Merlefest's Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

Passing along this press release regarding one of our favorite music festivals: Merlest

Deadline to Enter is February 19, 2013

WILKESBORO, N.C. (January 22, 2013)—Distinguished songwriters Matraca Berg, Lynda Dawson and Chris Smither will be among the judges that determine the winners of MerleFest 2013’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Now in its 21st year, the contest is an extraordinary 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 chairperson, Grammy®-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. MerleFest takes place from April 25-28, 2013.

Berg, Dawson and Smither bring an impressive body of critical and chart success to the judges’ table for this year’s contest:

Matraca Berg - 2013 CASC JudgeRenowned singer-songwriter Matraca Berg, inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, penned her first No. 1 single at age 18 and received her first Grammy nomination at age 22. Berg has written major hits for Reba McEntire (“The Last One To Know”), Linda Ronstadt (“Walk On”), Trisha Yearwood (“Wrong Side of Memphis,” “XXX’s and OOO’s/An American Girl,” “Everybody Knows”), Deana Carter (“Strawberry Wine,” “We Danced Anyway”), Martina McBride (“Wild Angels,” “Cry on the Shoulder of the Road”), Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Suzy Bogguss, Gretchen Wilson and many others. “Strawberry Wine,” Deana Carter’s breakthrough hit, won CMA “Song of the Year” honors. Berg, along with Carter, wrote 2011’s platinum-selling “You and Tequila,” a duet by Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter that scored two Grammy nominations and was one of the top country songs of that year. A respected artist in her own right, Berg’s critically-acclaimed The Dreaming Fields was released in 2011; Rolling Stone said of the project that “the melodies and hooks remain as irresistible as ever… This is the sound of a writer who seems more concerned with making tradition her own than with who might follow her.”

Lynda Dawson - 2013 CASC JudgeLynda Dawson is the lead singer, guitar player and songwriter for Raleigh, N.C.-based bluegrass and Americana outfit The Kickin Grass Band.  Her true-to-life songwriting, distinct vocals and tasteful guitar have been a hallmark of the band’s Americana and rootsy sound since their start in 2002.  Dawson has been described by PopMatters as writing “distinctive originals…with an ear for a catchy melody as well as interesting turns of phrase,” and by Nashville Public Radio as a “truly gifted songwriter who writes intelligently crafted lyrics married to unforgettable melodies.”  In addition to being a mainstay of the band’s four albums, including the 2012 release Walk With Me, her songs have been recorded by Valerie Smith and Becky Buller, aired on nationally syndicated PBS’s Song of the Mountains and NPR’s CarTalk, and licensed for various North Carolina-based projects. She teaches songwriting camps and workshops for kids and adults and was a featured songwriter at the International Bluegrass Music Association Songwriter Showcase in both 2007 and 2012. 

Chris Smither - 2013 CASC JudgeHaving distilled his own signature sound of blues and folk for over 40 years, Chris Smither is truly an American original. A profound songwriter, Chris has drawn deeply from such diverse influences as the blues, American folk music, and modern poets and philosophers during his lengthy career. From his early days as a New Orleans transplant in the Boston folk scene to his reemergence in the 1990s as one of America’s most distinctive acoustic performers, Chris Smither continues to hone his characteristic sound. Smither’s songs have been covered by artists such as Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Diana Krall. Reviewers praise his dazzling guitar work, gravelly voice and songwriting: “With a weary, well-traveled voice and a serenely intricate finger-picking style, Mr. Smither turns the blues into songs that accept hard-won lessons and try to make peace with fate” (New York Times); “Smither’s roots are as blue as they come” (Rolling Stone); “The masterful combination of pure folk songwriting and intricate guitar blues are tangible signs of the singer-songwriter's vigorous genius” (Wired). His 2012 release, the exquisite Hundred Dollar Valentine, is his first recording to feature all Smither-penned, original songs.

Contest entries for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest are accepted via two methods: U.S. Mail (P.O. Box 121855, Nashville, TN 37212) and Sonicbids ( The deadline for submissions is February 19, 2013.

The first round of the CASC competition takes place in Nashville, Tenn., and is narrowed down to 12 finalists representing four categories: bluegrass, country, general and gospel/inspirational. Finalists are then invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place during MerleFest on the campus of Wilkes Community College.

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 over $36,000 to 75 deserving students.

To learn more details about the contest, visit

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson who passed away May 29, 2012. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The festival hosts over 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.

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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Album Review: Dubl Handi - Up Like The Clouds

Dubl Handi, "a lovely small washboard with a Galvanized metal rubbing surface. This washboard was specifically designed to take away with you so you could wash your clothes on the move!"  Whoops, wrong Dubl Handi. I mean Dubl Handi, the acoustic duo of Brian Geltner and Hilary Hawke, not the washboard from the The Columbus Washboard Company. Well, you can see where their name derives. We were sent a preview copy of their new CD "Up Like The Clouds" and we will never be confused again. First, this album brings back many memories with historic classics such as Little Birdie, New River Train, Cluck Old Hen, Single Girl, and Poor Ellen Smith. And it introduced me to some other classics such as Katie Cruel, C'mon Baby, and  Randy Lynn Rag. How did I miss that Earl Scruggs hit?  But a single song, alone, sums up this release. Check out Undone in Sorrow. Beautiful vocals, soothing banjo from Hawke, and melodic snare drum rhythms from Geltner. Awesome. We've been listening to a lot of great music coming out of Brooklyn (Yarn, Spirit Family Reunion). Dubl Handi can be added to that list. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Album Review: Reed Turner: Ghosts in the Attic

Last we heard from Reed Turner we had just listened to his 2011 EP Side One: See How Far I Get. Now he's returned to our radar with the soon to be released Ghosts in the Attic - scheduled for early February.  Plus we hear that he's been hanging out with Phoebe Hunt, which makes us even more intrigued. I plugged the CD in and had it running in the background, but not for long. After switching back to see the song title for the first three tracks, I gave up on work and just listened. I thought the title track would be my favorite, then I listened to Killed That Girl, then Room for Doubt,  then Long Gone - you get the idea. This CD gets better the longer you listen. I really thought that his EP was a fine release, but there is no comparison to Ghosts. The song writing is more mature, the guitar work more sophisticated (Lone Gone), and the songs more powerful (Locking Doors & The Fire).  The only disappointment is I can't make it to Stubbs to see Turner and Ms. Hunt for the CD release party on February 8th.  The future of Texas alt-country is in good hands.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

SOUNDCHECK: Sam & Del Duo Prepare for the Birchmere

Sadly, I missed this November performance at The Birchmere featuring Sam Bush and Del McCoury; but The Bluegrass Situation was there. The duo have a few more shows scheduled together in late February and late March so check out the Sam Bush On The Road page. Oh, and perhaps Delfest?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Livestream of Jeff Black's New Relase BSACV2 Tonight

Today is the release date of Jeff Black's ninth album: B-Sides And Confessions Vol. 2. To celebrate the release, Black is hosting a worldwide release party from his virtual speakeasy, the TAPROOM. Broadcasting from 333 - the TAPROOM's stage to the world - Black is streaming the album for a full 24 hours before performing songs from the new album and other favorites with friends Sam Bush and Stephen Mougin on January 15th at 8 p.m. CT.  I haven't listened to the CD yet, but here's from the press release:

B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two follows Black’s Plow Through the Mystic (2011), which was hailed as a “masterful music soundscape” by Folk Alley and celebrated by PopMatters as an example of “the tradition of an artist delivering songs that are damn near perfectly crafted, and filled with the wisdom of the ages." This latest album is a new chapter of moving and soulful songs from the insightful storyteller.
B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two, features special appearances by music legends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters, and with these friends lending their musical support, Black has created another remarkable collection of roots-driven, moving and cinematic songs. Recorded at Black’s Arcana Studios and mixed by Dave Sinko, known for his work with Punch Brothers, The Bee Eaters and legend Don Williams, B-Sides and Confessions, Volume Two resonates with Black’s celebrated and personal style of matching verse and melody with portrait and tone. 

Jeff Black has been a collaborator with some of music’s most credible names, including Waylon Jennings, Dierks Bentley, Sam Bush, Alison Krauss, Iris Dement and more. Black’s song “Frozen Fields” - co-written with Jon Randall Stewart - was featured on both last year’s GRAMMY award-winning album Paper Airplane by Alison Krauss & Union Station, as well as Jerry Douglas’ album Traveler, released in 2012.
Frequently flying below the radar, Black is an innovator in how he connects directly with his fans as patrons. Dubbed “The Blacklist,” Black’s supporters have transformed over the years from a group of faithful podcast subscribers into a fervent family. Black takes that connection one step further with The TAPROOM, a cutting-edge file exchange website to better serve his loyal supporters.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Loads of Live Music Choices on the Birthday

This Saturday January 5th, I plan on heading out to watch a live show for my birthday. The issue; too many viable options. I would like to start the day at Paradise Springs Winery with Doug Parks - but that's the easy part. It get's complicated at night. I could head west into Loudoun County for some folk or bluegrass with Andrew McKnight and Beyond Borders at the Franklin Park Performing & Visual Arts Center or Dark Hollow Bluegrass Band & The Virginia Ramblers at the Lucketts Community Center. Contrarily, I could head in the opposite direction, into DC for the Jamie McLean Band at Hill Country BBQ or to the  The Hamilton and Ryan Cabrera, Tyler Hilton, & Teddy Geiger. My wife would enjoy that one. Then there's Alexandria and The Birchmere for the Pat McGee Reunion Show. But then again, there are my local venues; Wolf Trap - The Barns (Ari Hest), Jammin' Java (Michael Clem), IOTA Club (Melodime), or Dogfish Head Alehouse (William Walter & Co. ). That's a lot of music options. Thanks to all for coming to D.C. Cheers