WILKESBORO, Nc. (Jan. 10, 2018) – MerleFest, presented by Window World and taking place April 26-29, 2018, has assembled a distinguished team of songwriters – Rodney Crowell, Andrew Marlin (of Mandolin Orange), and previous winner Johnny Williams (of Jeanette Williams Band) – to judge the on-site final round of this year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.
Rodney Crowell is a multiple Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter who has written or recorded 15 #1 songs on the Country music charts. He has also won six Americana Music Awards, including the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting, and he is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His songs have been recorded by country legends (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, George Strait), to current country chart toppers (Tim McGraw, Keith Urban) to blues icons (Etta James), and rock and roll legends (Van Morrison, Bob Seger). Crowell’s latest album, “Close Ties,” was released in March 2017 on New West Records to critical acclaim. Rodney Crowell is scheduled to play the Cabin Stage on Friday.
Now in its 26th year, the Chris Austin Songwriting 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. The first place winners will receive $600 cash from MerleFest and a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday and Saturday at MerleFest 2018.
Jim Lauderdale is a “songwriter’s songwriter,” who’s written/co-written many modern classics for iconic artists. As a solo artist, since 1986 up until now, he’s created a body of work spanning 29 albums of imaginative roots music, encompassing country, bluegrass, soul, R&B and rock, as well as helping pave the way for the current Americana movement. Jim has written songs and worked with some of the finest artists in traditional and modern music, including Robert Hunter, Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, George Strait, Buddy Miller, Lucinda Williams, John Oates, Solomon Burke, Lee Ann Womack, Old Crow Medicine Show, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, and Gary Allan among others. He also co-hosts a weekly radio show on SiriusXM with Buddy Miller, “The Buddy & Jim Show,” and is the co-host of Music City Roots, the weekly live and radio, podcast and PBS series. In 2016 the Americana Music Association honored Jim during the 15th Annual Americana Awards and Honors with the WagonMaster Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by George Strait.
The first round of the CASC competition takes place in Nashville, Tn., 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 April 27 during MerleFest on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, Nc. The first round judges include T. Michael Coleman, Ken Tizzard, Aaron Burdett, CJ Lewandowski, and other notable industry songwriters.
The deadline to enter the contest is Feb. 1, 2018. Aspiring songwriters may submit entries to the contest using the online entry form or by mailing entries to MerleFest/CASC, PO Box 120, Wilkesboro, NC 28697. Submissions require a $30 fee per entry. All lyrics must be written in English and no instrumentals will be accepted. To read more about the contest rules and how to enter, visit http://merlefest.org/chris-austin-songwriting-contest/enter-the-contest/.
“We are extremely proud of the career successes achieved by many CASC alumni. Among these are Gillian Welch (1993), David Via (1997, 2001), Johnny Williams (1998, 1999), Tift Merritt (2000), Becky Buller (2001), Michael Reno Harrell (2003), Adrienne Young (2003), Martha Scanlan (2003), Sam Quinn (2006) and Jeanette Williams (2007),” said Lee K. Cornett, coordinator of MerleFest’s CASC. “More recent alumni include Lera Lynn (2011) and Gary Alan Ferguson (2014). Other recent discoveries from the contest are Melody Walker of Front Country and Joseph Terrell of Mipso. I encourage all songwriters to put the final touches on your masterpiece and submit it to the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest!”
Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has been awarded to 86 deserving students.
Tickets for this year’s festival may be purchased at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. MerleFest offers a three-tiered pricing structure and encourages fans to take advantage of the extended early bird discount. Early Bird Tier 1 tickets may be purchased from Nov. 14 to Feb. 18, 2018; Early Bird Tier 2 tickets from Feb. 19 to April 25. Tickets will be sold using Tier 3 pricing at the gate during the festival. The current MerleFest 2018 lineup is available at www.MerleFest.org/lineup.
MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including old-time, classic country, bluegrass, folk and gospel and blues, and expanded to include Americana, classic rock and many other styles. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. MerleFest has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
Chris Austin, from Boone, Nc., 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. 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 near San Diego. Pete Fisher, then of Warner Songs and former general manager of The Grand Ole Opry, and Kari Estrin, previous “Pickin’ for Merle” video associate producer, initiated the songwriting contest to honor Austin’s memory.
Previous Merlefest 2018 coverage from BBT