Merlefest Announces 2004 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

merlefest_large-250Wilkesboro, NC, USA – MerleFest 2004 organizers have announced that composer and recording artist Jim Lauderdale will again serve as Honorary Chairperson of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Entries on audiotape or compact disc for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest must be received by
March 18, 2004. Lauderdale will empanel a group of Nashville music industry figures that will evaluate all the entries. This panel will choose three finalists in each of four categories: bluegrass, country, gospel, and general. The finals will take place at MerleFest 2004 on April 30 on the Chris Austin Stage, sponsored by ASCAP and No Depression.

Songwriters performing at the festival will judge the finals. At MerleFest finalists will receive 4-day tickets and lodging within thirty miles of the event and compete for prizes include cash prizes, sponsored by Thomas Fisher, First Vice-President, Morgan Keegan, Durham, NC, and Epiphone Guitars from Gibson. Additional prizes and support come from Acoustic Guitar Magazine; Performing Songwriter, and D’Addario strings. The first place contestants will perform for the main stage audience. For entry information, please call 800-799-3838 or visit the web
site (

All entries must be submitted on tape or CD with entry fee and an official entry form to The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest; PO Box 121855; Nashville, TN 37212. Entries without completed entry form and fee will not be judged.A then unknown Gillian Welch was one of the winners of the initial Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 1993. Word quickly spread about her talents from there. Darrell Scott, Sally Jones, Carla Gover, and contest chair Jim Lauderdale judged the finals of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, which attracted 794 entries. First round judging from recordings produced twelve finalists who competed with the following results. General Category Finalists: First Place: “River” by Scott Carter, Nashville, TN; Second: “The Lone Cypress”
by Ron Poythress, Carolina Beach, NC; Third: “I Can See Love” by Lisa Richards, Austin, TX. Country Category: First: “Rock Me Like A Lullaby” by Connie Townsend & Dave Parker, Elkins, WV; Second: “Almost True” by Molly Sloan, Nashville, TN; Third: “Wine & Beer When You Are Here” by Rowland Stebbins, Nashville, TN. Gospel Category Finalists: First: “By The River” by Ruth Bloomquist, Muskegon, MI; Second: “There Is A Place” by Lizza Connor, Nashville, TN; Third: “When Heavenly Hills Come Calling For Me” by Mark Brinkman, Pickerington, OH. Bluegrass Category Finalists: “First: “Sadie’s Song” by Adrienne Young, Nashville, TN; Second: “The Ghost of Silas Jordan” by Mark Brinkman, Pickerington, OH; Third: “I’m Getting Pretty Good At Being Lonesome”
by Robert Wright, Staten Island, NY.

Pete Fisher, then of WarnerSongs and currently general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, and Kari Estrin, then Associate Coordinator of MerleFest, initiated the contest to honor the memory of Chris Austin, a northwestern North Carolina native. A Warner-Refuge writer, Austin spent several years in the band of Ricky Skaggs, who scored a Top 5 hit with Chris’ “Same Ol’ Love.” On March 16, 1991,
only a few hours after Skaggs recorded the song, Austin, 27, was killed in a tragic plane accident near San Diego along with other members of Reba McEntire’s band. A solo record, Firm Believer appeared posthumously on Warner Brothers.

Net Proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest have created an endowed scholarship in memory of Chris, the Chris Austin Scholarship Fund. This scholarship is presented annually to a deserving student at Wilkes Community College, the site of MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Additional
proceeds support the Chris Austin Stage at the festival, where each year the finalists perform. Thomas Fisher, First Vice-President, Morgan Keegan, Durham, NC; Gibson Epiphone; Acoustic Guitar Magazine; Performing Songwriter, and D’Addario strings sponsor the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

Lauderdale, also a western NC native, recording artist, and BMI writer for Bluewater Music, enjoyed one of his favorite musical moments at MerleFest ’98, when he got the opportunity to sub for Ralph Stanley II as guitarist and vocalist for Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, with whom he has recorded two successful albums. The favorite has penned hits for such mainstream artists as George Strait, Patty Loveless, and the Dixie Chicks. Lauderdale’s co-writing partners have ranged from Harlan Howard to the Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter. Recently, Lauderdale has appeared on stage as George Jones in “The Tammy Wynette Story.” Lauderdale records both bluegrass and country
material. His most recent release is a collaboration with Donna the Buffalo.

The popular Songwriters’ Coffeehouse, sponsored by AccuCopy, again happens on Friday evening, April 30, at MerleFest 2004. Songwriters selected by lot from on site registrants on site will share the stage with singer-songwriters performing at MerleFest.

Festival coordinators previously announced an extraordinary talent roster for MerleFest 2004, the 17th annual festival in celebration of the music of the late Merle Watson and his father Doc Watson
presented by Wilkes Community College on April 30  May 2, 2004 on its campus in Wilkesboro, NC. Those joining Doc Watson and Merle’s son Richard Watson for MerleFest 2004 will include the Sam Bush Band, Roseanne Cash, John Cowan Band, the Derailers, Donna the Buffalo, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Béla Fleck & Edgar Meyer, Vince Gill, the Gourds, David Grisman Quintet, Hot Tuna, Jeannie Kendall, the Kruger Brothers, Patty Loveless, Natalie MacMaster Band, Nickel Creek, Tim O’Brien, Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing Trio, Old Crow Medicine Show, Reeltime Travelers, Tony Rice Unit, Savoy Doucet Cajun Band, the legendary Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends, the Waifs, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, and Kelly
Willis & Bruce Robison.

Ticket sales will begin at 2 PM Eastern on Tuesday, November 11, 2003. Those with Internet access may acquire their tickets easily by visiting Those without Internet access may purchase tickets by calling 1-800-343-7857 (US only) or 336-838-6267 (non-US) from 10 AM through 4 PM, EST, weekdays. Tickets may also be ordered by fax (336-838-6277) and mail (MerleFest; P.O. Box 1299; Wilkesboro, NC 28697). Those interested in volunteering for MerleFest should call 336-838-6292. Vendor info: 336-838-6291. Sponsor info: 919-542-3997.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.