Chris Austin Songwriting Competition announces finalists

Despite the cancellation of the 2020 MerleFest, the first round of judging for their annual Chris Austin Songwriting Competition was recently concluded. Since submissions had already been accepted when Wilkes County, NC officials restricted public gatherings of more than 100 people through April, MerleFest staff made the decision to complete the first round of judging in the competition, and postpone the finals until the 2021 festival.

Typically, the final round is conducted during MerleFest itself, with the songwriters performing their entry live on stage before a panel of judges. To accommodate this year’s deferment, the 2021 Austin Competition will proceed normally, selecting finalists in the early part of the year, with both sets of final contestants going before the judges in separate rounds next year. So there will be two sets of winners in 2021, in each of the four categories.

The 2020 finalists, announced today, are:


  • Aaron Burdett (Saluda, NN) – Rockefeller
  • Joel Mabus (Portage, MI) – Shine
  • Molly Mathewson (Athens, IL) – The Tie that Binds


  • Marie Bradshaw (Centerville, UT) – American Dream
  • Sarah Jones (Nashville, TN), Royale Lynn (Nashville, TN), Priscilla Block (Nashville, TN) – Wyoming
  • Sarah Jane Nelson (Nashville, TN), Kenny Foster (Nashville, TN) – Sins of the Father


  • Jomo Edwards (Austin, TX) – You Need It
  • Dori Freeman (Galax, VA) – The Rollin’ Hills
  • Bradley Lauretti (Shelton, CT) – South Dakota


  • Mark Atkinson (Charleston, WV) – Home
  • Benjamin Luckhaupt (West Harrison, IN) – Songs About Heaven
  • Erinn Peet-Lukes (Golden, CO) – Take Back Your Angels

Congratulations and best of luck to you all!

MerleFest is also conducting a fundraiser now to help them recoup the losses incurred by this year’s festival cancellation. They have announced that a private donor has agreed to match all contributions up to $150,00, and while all 2020 ticket holders are entitled to a complete refund, they also have the option to convert their ticket fees into a contribution. Tickets for this year can also be rolled forward to 2021.

To date they have received nearly $78,000 of their $150,000 goal. More details can be found on the MerleFest web site.

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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.