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MerleFest Announces Chris Austin Songwriting Competition Finalists

MerleFest Announces Chris Austin Songwriting Competition Finalists

From its first incarnation in 1993, MerleFest's annual Chris Austin Songwriting Competition has seen the likes of Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, and Martha Scanlan rise to the top of an always competitive field of up-and-coming songwriters. Legendary songwriters have presided over the competition from the start as judges, too. Darrell Scott, Hayes Carll, and the late, great Guy Clark have all taken a turn at judging the CASC. This year, the event will be judged byJoey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, better known as The Milk Carton Kids, Cruz Contreras of The Black Lillies, and Texas-troubadour Radney Foster. Mr. Americana Jim Lauderdale will host the competition and Mark Bumgarner will return as emcee for the finalist contest taking place at MerleFest's Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 p.m.

This year's Chris Austin Songwriting Competition Finalists each fall into one of four categories:


Wyatt Espalin (Hiawassee, GA): "Light Coming Through"

Anya Hinkle (Asheville, NC): "Ballad Of Zona Abston"

James Woolsey (Petersburg, IN) and David Foster (Petersburg, IN): "Sugar Ridge Road"


Hannah Kaminer (Asheville, NC): "Don't Open Your Heart"

Andrew Millsaps (Ararat, NC): "Ain't No Genie (In A Bottle Of Jack)"

Shannon Wurst (Fayetteville, AR): "Better Than Bourbon"


Wright Gatewood (Chicago, IL): "First"

Alexa Rose (Asheville, NC): "Medicine For Living"

Bryan Elijah Smith (Dayton, VA): "In Through The Dark"


Ashleigh Caudill (Nashville, TN) and Jon Weisberger (Cottontown, TN): "Walkin' Into Gloryland"

Kevin T. Hale (Brentwood, TN): "We All Die To Live Again"

Russ Parrish (Burnsville, MN) and Topher King (Savage, MN): "Washed By The Water"

All three finalists in each category will have the chance to perform their songs for the judges on MerleFest's Austin Stage before category winners are ultimately decided on Friday.

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 91 deserving students.

In addition to the songwriting competition, MerleFest's band competition will take place on the Plaza Stage on Saturday the 27th from 11:00 a.m to 3:30 p.m. Judged by members of The Local Boys and emceed by Mark Bumgarner, the competition's winners will be announced at 4:00 p.m on the Plaza Stage. The winning band will head over to the Cabin Stage, where they will perform to an enthusiastic MerleFest audience from 6:35 to 7 p.m. This year's band competition finalists include Shay Martin Lovette (Boone, NC), Pretty Little Goat (Brevard, NC), None of the Above (Piedmont Triad, NC), Brooks Forsyth (Boone, NC), Alex Key and the Locksmiths (Wilkesboro, NC),Massive Grass (Wilmington, NC), Redleg Husky (Asheville, NC), and The Mike Mitchell Band (Floyd, VA).

A few friendly reminders now that MerleFest is less than one month away! Don't forget to download the MerleFest app to help plan your festival experience. The MerleFest app can point you towards a variety of on-site activities for all ages. In between musical sets, the Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally located shopping village of commercial vendors, official MerleFest memorabilia, and services such as first aid, lost and found, overnight storage, and internet access. The Little Pickers Family Area offers lots of fun and games for children as well as some fine storytelling, songwriting and music. Small 15-person backstage tours are available for purchase online and begin at the Merle Watson Garden of the Senses and continue into the MerleFest museum. The Pickin' Place, an entire venue devoted to pickin' and grinnin', includes the Traditional Jammin' Tent, Bluegrass Jammin' Tent, Anything Goes Jammin' Tent, and Hands-On Tent for pickers of all skill levels. Info for all of the above and more is available here.

Tickets for this year's festival, backstage tours, as well as the Late Night Jam sponsored by The Bluegrass Situation, may be purchased at 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 2 tickets will be available through April 24th. Remaining tickets will be sold at the gate during the festival. Headliners include The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Wynonna & the Big Noise, Del McCoury Band, Dailey & Vincent, Tyler Childers, Keb' Mo', Sam Bush, The Earls of Leicester, and Peter Rowan and The Free Mexican Air Force. The Late Night Jam sponsored by The Bluegrass Situation will be hosted by Chatham County Line. In addition to the above-mentioned artists, the following will be performing at MerleFest '19:

American Aquarium, Andy May, Ana Egge & The Sentimentals, Ashley Heath and Her Heathens, AZTEC SUN, Banknotes, Bob Hill, Cane Mill Road, Carol Rifkin, Carolina Blue, Casey Kristofferson Band, Catfish Keith, Charles Welch, Chris Rodrigues with Abby the Spoonlady, David LaMotte, Dirk Powell Band, Donna the Buffalo, Driftwood, Elephant Sessions, Elizabeth Cook, Ellis Dyson & The Shambles, Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys, Happy Traum, Irish Mythen, Jack Lawrence, Jeff Little Trio, Jim Avett, Jim Lauderdale, Joe Smothers, Jontavious Willis and Andrew Alli, Josh Goforth, Junior Brown, Junior Sisk, Larry Stephenson Band, Laura Boosinger, Lindi Ortega, Mark Bumgarner, Mark & Maggie O'Connor, Maybe April, Michaela Anne, Mile Twelve, The Milk Carton Kids, Mitch Greenhill and String Madness, Molly Tuttle, Nixon, Blevins, & Gage, Pete & Joan Wernick and FLEXIGRASS, Presley Barker, Professor Whizzpop!, Radney Foster, Roy Book Binder, Salt & Light, Scythian, Sean McConnell, Shane Hennessy, Si Kahn & The Looping Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, Steve Poltz, T. Michael Coleman, The Black Lillies, The Brother Brothers, The Gibson Brothers, The Harris Brothers, The InterACTive Theatre of Jeff, The Kruger Brothers, The Local Boys, The Trailblazers, The Waybacks, Todd Albright, Tom Feldmann, Tony Williamson, Uncle Joe and The Shady Rest, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, Wayne Henderson, Webb Wilder, and Yarn. The lineup and performance schedules are accessible

MerleFest is pleased to partner with Come Hear NC, a promotional campaign of the North Carolina Department of Natural & Cultural Resources and the North Carolina Arts Council, to celebrate 2019 as "The Year of Music," a designation Governor Roy Cooper announced in November of last year. MerleFest, honoring its locale, has programmed over 40 artists who currently call North Carolina home, each artist representing a different aspect of the state's great musical history. Come Hear NC was designed to celebrate North Carolinians' groundbreaking contributions to many of America's most important musical genres - blues, bluegrass, jazz, country, gospel, Americana, rock and everything in-between. It's fitting then, with 2019 as "The Year of Music," that the Steep Canyon Rangers, also proud North Carolinians, would debut their North Carolina Songbook set at MerleFest.

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