2017 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest finalists announced

MerleFest has announced the finalists for their 2017 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

Each year hundreds of eager writers submit songs to be considered for this prestigious competition. First round judges then have the unenviable task of selecting three finalists in each of four categories to go head-to-head on the MerleFest stage.

For 2017, there were nearly 850 submissions and the decision of the judges has been released.

And the finalists are…


  • Mike Bentley (Virgie, KY) – Waiting at the Harbor
  • Linda Jean Stokley (Versailles, KY) – Cigarette Trees
  • Matthew Hurd (Rogersville, TN) – Life Underground


  • Ian Meadows (Chester, CT) – Faithless Preacher
  • Kevin Hale (Brentwood, TN) – I’m Finally Going Home
  • Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, NM), Buddy Guido (Mohawk, NY), Willie Schoellkopf (Buffalo, NY) – Trap Door (In the Ceiling)


  • Carly Burruss (Cumming, GA) – Communion Wine
  • Mary Bragg (Nashville, TN), Liz Poston (Nashville, TN) – Lucky Strike
  • Erin James (Nashville, TN) – Wilted Flower


  • Alexa Rose (Boone, NC) – Borrow your Heart
  • Catherine Backus (Bedford, VA) – Tomatoes
  • Shay Martin Lovette (Boone, NC), Locke Griffith (Carrboro, NC) – Bermuda Run

This year’s first round judges were Chris Jones, Jim Avett, Ken Tizzard and Ed Snodderly. For the finals, to be held April 28 on the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC, will be Mark Brinkman, Maya de Vitry, and Joseph Terrell.

First place songwriters will receive a $500 cash award, plus a chance to perform their winning song on MerleFest’s Cabin Stage later that night. Second place finishers get $300 with $100 for third.

All proceeds from the competition go to the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship, which has to date funded scholarships for 84 deserving students without the financial wherewithal to attend college.

Congratulations and best of luck to all the 2017 finalists!

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John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.