Chris Austin Songwriting Contest winners at MerleFest 2017

Linda Stokley performs her winning bluegrass song at MerleFest 2017 – photo by Ryan Case

This past weekend at MerleFest, the winners were announced in the 2017 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Finalists had been announced a few weeks ago, and placement was decided during live performances before the judges by the writers of the selected songs on Friday, April 28.

The first place winner in the all-important bluegrass category is Linda Jean Stokley, a student at The Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University, preparing for a career in our business.

Here’s a video she made of the song along with Montana Hobbs last year.

And the complete list of 2017 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest winners are…


  • 1st Place – Linda Jean Stokley (Versailles, KY.) – Cigarette Trees
  • 2nd Place – Mike Bentley (Virgie, KY) – Waiting at the Harbor
  • 3rd Place – Matthew Hurd (Rogersville, TN) – Life Underground


  • 1st Place – Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, NM), Buddy Guido (Mohawk, NY), Willie Schoellkopf (Buffalo, NY) – Trap Door (In the Ceiling)
  • 2nd Place – Ian Meadows (Chester, CN) – Faithless Preacher
  • 3rd Place – Kevin Hale (Brentwood, TN) – I’m Finally Going Home


  • 1st Place – Mary Bragg (Nashville, TN), Liz Poston (Nashville, TN) – Lucky Strike
  • 2nd Place – Carly Burruss (Cumming, GA) – Communion Wine
  • 3rd Place – Erin James (Nashville, TN) – Wilted Flower


  • 1st Place – Catherine Backus (Bedford, VA) – Tomatoes
  • 2nd Place – Alexa Rose (Boone, NC) – Borrow your Heart
  • 3rd Place – Shay Martin Lovette (Boone, NC), Locke Griffith (Carrboro, NC) – Bermuda Run

Here’s a photo of the winners with this year’s judges, Maya de Vitry, Mark Brinkman, Jim Lauderdale, and Joseph Terrell (in front).

Congratulations 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.