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MerleFest Congratulates 2014 Chris Austin Songwriter Winners

Chris Austin Songwriters Judges and WinnersWilkesboro, NC -- MerleFest 2014 congratulates the winners of the 22nd Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Writers of the following twelve songs were selected from 567 entries and competed on the Austin Stage at MerleFest on Friday, April 25. MerleFest performer Keller Williams served as emcee for the contest. Distinguished songwriters Darrell Scott, Charles Humphrey III (Steep Canyon Rangers) and Niall Toner served as this year’s onsite judges that determine this year’s winners.

Each of the first place winners received a performance slot on the Cabin Stage at MerleFest, a check for $500 from sponsor La Fiesta Mexican Restaurants, two boxes of D'Addario strings, a gift certificate from Jackson's Music. Second place winners received a slot on the Friday night Songwriters Coffeehouse, a check for $250, a box of D'Addario strings, a gift certificate from Jackson's Music. Third place winners received a slot on the Friday night Songwriters Coffeehouse, a check for $50, a box of D'Addario strings, a gift certificate from Jackson's Music. Additionally, all finalists participated in a mentoring session with Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale, who serves as honorary chairperson of the contest, and onsite judges Charles Humphrey III, Darrell Scott and Niall Toner.

The winners are:

  • Bluegrass
    • 1st Place - Paul Harrigill (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and Amber Nugent (Ferriday, La.) – “I’m Blue”
    • 2nd Place – Chelsea McBee (Shepherdstown, W.Va.) – “Gone-A-Rye”
    • 3rd Place – Josh Crews (Boone, N.C.) – “Crossties”
  • Gospel/Inspirational
    • 1st Place – Frank Hurd (Raleigh, N.C.) – “Light”
    • 2nd Place – Gary Alan Ferguson (Alexandria, Va.) – “Time to Praise the Lord”
    • 3rd Place – Allen Smith and Corey Smith (Robbins, N.C.) – “Without Love”
  • Country
    • 1st Place – Becky Warren (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Call Me Sometime”
    • 2nd Place – Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) – “If You Never Let Me Go”
    • 3rd Place - Dan Buehner (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Ben Childs (Oxford, Miss.) – “Cadillac”
  • General
    • 1st Place – Joseph Terrell (Chapel Hill, N.C.) – “Angelina Jane is Long Gone”
    • 2nd Place – Sarah Potenza and Ian Crossman (Nashville, Tenn.) – “My Turn
    • 3rd Place – Clint Alphin (Dunn, N.C.) – “Nobody Knows My Name”

Charles R Humphrey III is best known in the bluegrass world of songwriting for his work with Steep Canyon Rangers. His third solo album with Songs from the Road Band, "Traveling Show," will be released summer 2014. He writes regularly in the genres of bluegrass, country, gospel and Americana, often collaborating with some of the best known writers in these styles. He has had song cuts placed in radio, television and film.

Niall Toner is an Irish bluegrass musician, songwriter and well-known radio broadcaster from Dublin. His songs have been recorded by the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Albert Lee, the Fleadh Cowboys and The Special Consensus, among others. His composition, "Nuns Island Reel," has been included in the biggest-selling video game in history, Grand Theft Auto IV. Toner has been performing since the early ‘60s; he formed his current outfit, the Niall Toner Band, in 2001, which has recorded three albums to date. Toner currently hosts “Roots Freeway” on Ireland’s RTE radio. He is also the author of “Nuts and Bolts,” a guide to writing better songs.

A Grammy-nominated artist, an award-winning songwriter and a first-call session musician, Darrell Scott is one of today’s more successful country songwriters, placing songs with the biggest names in country music, including Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Travis Tritt, Brad Paisley, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill and Sam Bush. In 2002, "Long Time Gone," the advance single from the Dixie Chicks' chart-topping, multi-platinum album “Home,” was a Scott composition that had first appeared on “Real Time.” It crested at No. 2 in the country charts, and it earned Scott a second Grammy nomination, this one for Best Country Song. Scott won the 2007 Song of the Year award from the Americana Music Association for his song "Hank William's Ghost." In January 2011, his album “A Crooked Road” won the award for the Country Album category from The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards. Scott’s latest album, recorded with Tim O’Brien, is “Memories and Moments.”

The first-round judges were: Singer/songwriter/musician Tift Merritt, Claire Armbruster of Planning Stages, Ashlee-Jean Trott of Music City Roots, John Tumminello of Musicians Corner/Music City Unsigned, Judy McDonough of JEMMedia, Megan McNair of Sugar Hill Records and Whitney Holmes of the Americana Music Association. Tift Merritt won MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in 2000.

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is a unique 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 Jim Lauderdale. Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential.

Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest help support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception the scholarship has awarded over $38,000 to 79 deserving students. The 2013-2014 Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship recipients are Delana Elyse Long and Bobbie Williams. Previous winners of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest include Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via and Johnny Williams.

For more details about the contest, visit www.merlefest.org/ChrisAustinSongwritingContest.

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 the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson who passed away May 29, 2012. 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 over 130 artists, performing on 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, 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. 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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