MerleFest announces Chris Austin finalists for ’16

Merlefest-LogoMerleFest has today announced the finalists for the 2016 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

Well over 700 entries were received for the annual competition this year, broken into four board categories.

Austin was a native of nearby Boone, NC, an artist and songwriter in bluegrass and country music, who was killed in a plane crash in 1991 along with other members of Reba McEntire’s band. The contest was launched to honor his memory, and has grown into perhaps the most prestigious of its kind in acoustic music. Proceeds from the contest fund the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship, which to date has awarded more than $34,000 to 84 students.

The initial entries were judged in Nashville by a panel of artists, writers, and music business personalities: Kristy Cox, Michaela Ann, Caleb Klaudner, Brink Brinkmann, Joe Lurgio, Ashlee-Jean Trott, and Whitney Holmes.

Finalist for the 24th edition of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest are:


  • Cindy Giejda (Farmingdale, NJ) – Jail Break
  • Courtney Rorrer (Madison, NC) and Asa Gravley (Beckley, WV) – Midnight Tears
  • Aaron Bibelhauser (Louisville, KY) – Blue Collar Dreams


  • Austin Stanley (Nashville, TN) – The Face of God
  • Marcy Each (Cedar Rapids, IA) – On the Cross Built for Me
  • Corey Smith and Allen Smith (Fayetteville, NC) – The Road


  • Sarah Morris (Shoreview, MN) – I Go Back
  • Meris Gantt of Handlebar Betty (Blowing Rock, NC) – House of Cards
  • Buddy Guido (Mohawk, NY), Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, NM) and Willie Scheollkopf (Buffalo, NY) – This Livin’ May Be Killing Me


  • David Morris (Gaithersburg, MD) and Chris Dockins (Burke, VA) – Weeds
  • Sarah Sample (Sheridan, WY) – A Heart That Falls Apart
  • Adam Bonomo (Brooklyn, NY) – Redshifted

These finalists will perform their song at MerleFest on April 29 before a second judging panel, consisting of Milan Miller, John Cloyd Miller, and Sarah Potenza. First place winners in each division will receive a $600 cash prize, and the opportunity to perform on the Cabin Stage later that night.

Congratulations and best of luck to all the competitors!

Share this:

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.