Chris Austin Songwriting finalists announced for 2019

The prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, held each year as part of MerleFest in North Wilkesboro, NC, has announced the finalists for the 2019 competition.

Run as an open event, songwriters compete in two separate rounds. An initial round of judges chooses three finalists in each of four categories who are then invited to perform their song before another set of judges during MerleFest. This year the judges for the finals will be Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale of Milk Carton Kids, Cruz Contreras of The Black Lillies, and Texas songwriter Radney Foster.

First place winners receive a $600 cash award, plus a chance to perform their song on Friday from during the Cabin Stage. They also get two boxes of D’Addario strings, Shubb capos, and a chance to be recorded live by Saloon Studios. Second place winners will get a $300 award, plus strings and capos, with $100 for third.


  • Wyatt Espalin (Hiawassee, GA) – Light Coming Through
  • Anya Hinkle (Asheville, NC) – Ballad Of Zona Abston
  • James Woolsey (Petersburg, IN) and David Foster (Petersburg, IN) – Sugar Ridge Road


  • Hannah Kaminer (Asheville, NC) – Don’t Open Your Heart
  • Andrew Millsaps (Ararat, NC) – Ain’t No Genie (In A Bottle Of Jack)
  • Shannon Wurst (Fayetteville, AR) – Better Than Bourbon


  • Wright Gatewood (Chicago, IL) – First
  • Alexa Rose (Asheville, NC) –  Medicine For Living
  • Bryan Elijah Smith (Dayton, VA) – In Through The Dark


  • Ashleigh Caudill (Nashville, TN) and Jon Weisberger (Cottontown, TN) – Walkin’ Into Gloryland
  • Kevin T. Hale (Brentwood, TN) – We All Die To Live Again
  • Russ Parrish (Burnsville, MN) and Topher King (Savage, MN) – Washed By The Water

The final round of competition will occur on April 26 at MerleFest, starting at 2:00 p.m.

Proceeds from the contest go to support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship, which has been used to help fund the education of 84 students, with total awards in excess of $34,600.

Congratulations and best of luck to all the competitors.

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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.