Chris Austin competition winners heavy on bluegrass

Molly Tuttle, she of The Tuttles with AJ Lee, took the top prize in the General Category of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at last weekend’s MerleFest in North Wilkesboro, NC. In addition to performing with her family band based in California, Molly is a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

She took first place for her song, Walden, which she had written as a class assignment in the 11th grade, inspired by the Henry David Thoreau’s book of the same name which they were studying in her English class at the time.

Shannon Slaughter, who has been a regular on our Bluegrass Today Weekly Airplay chart with tracks from his The Sideman Steps Out CD, took top honors in the Country category for a co-write on I’ve Hit Everything In My Life (But My Knees).

And the all-important bluegrass category saw top honors going to Louisa Branscomb, one of our music’s more celebrated writers.

Here’s a list of all the winners:


  • 1st Place – Louisa Branscomb (Nashville, TN) for Stormy Night
  • 2nd Place – Ashleigh Caudill (Nashville, TN) and Jodi Harbin (Knoxville, TN.) for Polly Andrey
  • 3rd Place – Jo Ellen Doering (Los Angeles, CA.) for Anywhere Is Home


  • 1st Place – Mandee Radford of Alathea (Unicoi, TN) for Halls of Heaven
  • 2nd Place – Mel Smith of Milkwood Dreamers (Calgary, ALB) for Devil Train
  • 3rd Place – Richard Henry (Houston, TX) for Stop, Look, and Listen


  • 1st Place – Shannon Slaughter (Trussville, AlL), Dale Felts (Hickory, NC) and Mark Byrd (North Wilkesboro, NC) for I’ve Hit Everything In My Life (But My Knees)
  • 2nd Place – Lauren Staley of The Whiskey Gentry (Atlanta, GA) for Cost of Loving You
  • 3rd Place – Josh Pickett (Cana, VA) for You Took Me There


  • 1st Place – Molly Tuttle (Palo Alto, CA) – Walden
  • 2nd Place – Sara Petite (San Diego, CA) – Circus Comes To Town
  • 3rd Place – Brennen Leigh (Austin, TX) and Noel McKay (Austin, TX) – Are You Still Taking Them Pills

And let’s not forget the MerleFest instrumental champions! Brandon Green, who is on the faculty of the Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music program at ETSU, won for banjo, and Ben Cockman took top the prize for guitar.

The complete list of winners is:


  • 1st Place – Brandon Green (Johnson City, TN)
  • 2nd Place – Kyle Tuttle (Jamaica Plain, MA)
  • 3rd Place – Jason Bales (New Market, TN)


  • 1st Place – Ben Cockman (Sherrills Ford, NC)
  • 2nd Place – Austin Mikeal (Jefferson, NC)
  • 3rd Place – Seth Church (Danville, VA)

Well done, one and all!

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About the Author

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.