To borrow a line from the late, great George Jones, imagine a world without the amazing and refreshing musical stylings of Gillian Welch, Tiff Merritt, Mipso’s Joseph Terrell or Melody Walker of Front Country fame.
If it wasn’t for MerleFest’s Christ Austin Songwriting Contest, we may have never been exposed to these, and many more, talented artists.
And it’s that time of year again when MerleFest, presented by Window World, will begin accepting entries for the contest beginning Oct. 1. CASC is one of the most acclaimed songwriting contests in roots and Americana music, having a reputation for launching careers and discovering important new talent, according to organizers.
Winners in four categories – bluegrass, general, gospel, and country – will be chosen at MerleFest, which will take place April 26–29, 2018. MerleFest is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans that takes place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
Now in its 26th year, CASC is an extraordinary opportunity for songwriters to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of music industry professionals, under the direction of volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale.
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.
The deadline to enter is Feb. 1, 2018. All entries received during October and November will receive an early entry discount price of $25 per entry. Submissions received in December and January will require a $30 fee per entry. All lyrics must be written in English and no instrumentals will be accepted.
The first round of the CASC competition takes place in Nashville, Tennessee, and is narrowed down to 12 finalists representing the four categories. Finalists are then invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place Friday, April 27, during MerleFest. First place winners will receive $600 cash from MerleFest and a 20-35 minute performance set on MerleFest’s Cabin Stage on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
“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, in a release.
“More recent alumni include Lara Lynn (2011), Gary Alan Ferguson (2014), Melody Walker (2013) of Front Country and Joseph Terrell (2014) of Mipso. I encourage all songwriters to submit their compositions to the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest!”
Net proceeds from the contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded more than $41,000 to deserving students. To learn more details about the contest, visit www.MerleFest.org/CASC.
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, including old-time, 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, 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. 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.