MerleFest announces Chris Austin Songwriting finalists

The finalists for the 2018 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest have been announced this morning. Sponsored and run by MerleFest, this competition has become the crown jewel for aspiring writers, both for the generous cash prizes awarded to the winners, and for the opportunity to perform your song before the huge audience that MerleFest affords. Plus, the exposure received has led to many a song finding its way onto a recording from artists in our genre after the contest.

Three finalists are chosen in each of four categories, with entries limited to writers for whom 50% of the annual income does not come from from songwriting or publishing royalties. This does not include income from musical performance, so the event finds a mix of entrants, amateur, professional, and semi-professional as well.

And the 2018 finalists are…


  • Frank D. Ray (Hillsboro, Missouri) – False Hearted Love
  • James Woolsey (Petersburg, Indiana) – Lights of Home
  • Vickie Austin (Fall Branch, Tennessee) – Can’t Hold On To Much


  • Andy Owens (Boone, North Carolina) – The Truth of Love
  • Beth Lee (Black Mountain, North Carolina) – Sacred Song
  • Bob Hight (Greensboro, North Carolina) – Heaven Will Be Mine


  • Amanda Fields, Tom Buller (Nashville, Tennessee) – Whiskey Ain’t Got Nothing on You
  • Cliff Westfall (Highland Park, New Jersey) – More and More
  • Marie Bradshaw (Centerville, Utah), Daniel Young, Kiki Jane Sieger (North Salt Lake, Utah) – These Walls (May Never Come Down)


  • Bryan Smith (Dayton, Virginia) – Nothing Left
  • Zander Melidis (Clawson, Michigan) – Born Again
  • Cliff Ritchey (Markleville, Indiana) – Honey Baby

All of the finalists will perform their song before a panel of judges during the festival on Friday, April 27. This year’s judges include Rodney Crowell, Andrew Marlin (of Mandolin Orange), and Johnny Williams.

First prize winners in each category will receive a $600 cash award, two boxes of D’Addario strings, and a chance to perform on stage on Saturday afternoon. Everyone gets a prize, with second place earning $300 and one box of strings, and third $100 and a box of strings.

Congratulations and best of luck to all the 2018 finalists!

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.