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MerleFest’s 2017 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest closes on Feb. 1

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Just a reminder to all the songwriters out there, the deadline to enter MerleFest‘s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is Feb. 1, 2017. This contest has helped launched the careers of Gillian Welch, Abigail Washburn and Mipso’s Joseph Terrell, who just happens to be a judge this year.

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. To read more about the contest history, rules and prizes, visit

The following is press release issued earlier this month by the good folks at MerleFest:

WILKESBORO, N.C. (January 3, 2017) – MerleFest, presented by Window World and taking place April 27-30, 2017, has assembled a distinguished team of songwriters – Mark “Brink” Brinkman, Maya de Vitry (of The Stray Birds) and Joseph Terrell (of Mipso) – to judge the on-site final round of this year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

Mark “Brink” Brinkman has been writing songs his entire life. An avid bluegrass picker, Brinkman is one of the most sought after, respected and recorded songwriters, having close to 300 “cuts” of his bluegrass, Americana, gospel and country songs. “Beyond the Rain” was No. 1 on the gospel charts for several months and was voted Bluegrass Gospel Song of the Year in 2007 at the 2007 National Quartet Convention. “The Old Coal Mine” that Larry Sparks recorded got to No. 3 on the Bluegrass Unlimited charts. “She’s a Stranger in His Mind,” recorded by Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain, won the Spirit Award and was named Country Song of the Year by Strictly Country Magazine.

“Brink,” as all his friends call him, also has been awarded Bluegrass Gospel Song of the Year from the National Quartet Convention and The Governor’s Award from the State of West Virginia in addition to winning the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest twice. (He has been a Chris Austin Songwriting Contest finalist five times.) And, Brinkman has been nominated three times for Songwriter of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Brinkman and his wife, Jan, travel the country in their RV as he continues to write incredible hit songs like “Devil’s Road” by Grasstowne and “Bluestone Mountain” by Don Rigsby.

Maya de Vitry is a Pennsylvania-raised, Nashville-based artist. A lifelong lover of words, her epiphany to dedicate herself to the craft of songwriting came while listening to Townes Van Zandt on a bus through Spain when she was 19. She attended Berklee College of Music where she was the recipient of a John Lennon Scholarship for Songwriting and a top finalist in the Telluride Troubadour competition. She has spent the last five years touring the United States, Canada and Europe as a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer in The Stray Birds, which she co-founded with fellow Pennsylvanians Oliver Craven and Charlie Muench. On stage and in the studio, de Vitry’s compelling songwriting has been an anchor and a force in the band; NPR named The Stray Birds’ self-titled debut one of the Top Folk and Americana Albums of 2012, her song “Best Medicine” took home Song of the Year at the 2015 International Folk Music Awards, and the band’s August 2016 release “Magic Fire” (Yep Roc Records) debuted at No. 1 on Bluegrass Billboard chart. From living room song circles to international festival stages, de Vitry’s songs resonate with grace and power.
Joseph Terrell of Indie-Americana band Mipso writes songs that seamlessly balance the authenticity of his Southern roots with progressive and thoughtful pop lyrics. His style, which echoes the soul and simplicity of folk legends like Norman Blake and Doc Watson, is infused with a smart and modern sense of irony. The result is a signature songwriting voice that is simultaneously contemporary and classic. Winner of the 2014 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (General Category), Terrell is a High Point, N.C., native. It was in High Point that his grandmother taught him his first song on guitar, Doc Watson’s version of “Tom Dooley.” When not on the road as guitarist/singer/songwriter with Mipso, Terrell engineers and produces projects at the Rubber Room Studio in Chapel Hill, N.C. Terrell is also an aficionado of vintage acoustic guitars and hot sauces.

Now in its 25th 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 $500 cash from MerleFest and a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday night at MerleFest 2017.

The deadline to enter the contest is February 1, 2017. 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. To read more about the contest history, rules and prizes, visit

This year, CASC judge and 2014 winner Joseph Terrell is offering a great opportunity for all songwriters prior to the deadline to enter the 2017 contest. MerleFest will hold a Facebook Live Q&A session with Joseph on January 25. (The time will be announced on MerleFest social media.) He will answer questions about songwriting as well as his experience winning the MerleFest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in 2014 and performing at the festival.

Joseph said in an interview with Pinecone (Piedmont Council of Traditional Music) in 2015, “I try not to get too mystical about the songwriting process, since the main ingredients are time, effort and a willingness to edit and re-edit until a tune feels right. But there is a sort of ‘a-ha’ element to it, too. I’ve heard it described as a radio frequency. Sometimes you feel like you spend hours just twisting the dial. Other days you feel totally tuned in to a signal, like you’re listening to something rather than creating it from scratch. As far as the lyrics go, I’m sure it goes back to having parents that love language. My dad made sure I knew the words to Dylan deep cuts when I was still in the car seat. My mom was always reciting poetry at the dinner table. I’m not saying I’ve attained either Dylan- or poetry-status, but I am grateful for all the word games on long car rides. That’s what it still feels like, like I get the chance to play with words all the time. When a phrase feels good, makes me chuckle, makes me wonder about something, it tends to end up in a song.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for songwriters to ask questions of and get advice from one of the industry’s most talented songwriters. And because it will happen in January, it gives songwriters time to polish up their songs before submitting them to the contest,” said Lee K. Cornett, coordinator of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

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. Noted gospel, country, Americana and bluegrass songwriters Jim Avett, Ed Snodderly, Ken Tizzard and Chris Jones will be part of the team of industry experts assisting during this preliminary round. Finalists are then invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place April 28 during MerleFest on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C.

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 $41,000 to 84 deserving students.

The current MerleFest 2017 lineup is viewable at

Tickets for MerleFest 2017 are on sale now and may be purchased at or by calling 1-800-343-7857. A three-tiered pricing structure is again offered for MerleFest 2017. Early Bird Tier 1 ticket discount is available through February 12, 2017. Early Bird Tier 2 ticket discount will run from February 13, 2017, through April 27, 2017. The third price tier will be gate pricing. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the extended early bird discount.

About MerleFest:
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 renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson, the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson. 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 a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, 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.


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