Entries accepted from October 1, 2014 - February 1, 2015

$30 per entry

MerleFest offers songwriters the opportunity to have their original songs heard by a panel of professional songwriters and others from the Nashville music industry by participating in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest!

Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest go to support the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception the Chris Austin Scholarship has helped 75 students and awarded over $34,000.

cascCAShy, quiet Chris Austin from Boone, North Carolina, turned courageous on Saturday night as he snuck into the Grand Ole Opry so a friend could introduce him to Ricky Skaggs. Soon, the young artist from Boone had a three-year job as Ricky's sideman playing guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and singing. It took Chris far away from the mountains where he fell in love with the guitar at 9 and joined his father's bluegrass band at 14.Working for Skaggs afforded Chris, who had attended the Country & Bluegrass program at South Plains College in Texas, the opportunity to be seen by executives at Warner Brothers Records, who offered him a recording contract. Over those next few years Warner Brothers released several singles, "Blues Stay Away From Me," "I Know There's A Heart In There Somewhere," and "Out Of Step." A respect for the power that songs have in their ability to make a positive impact in the world led Chris to devote all of his energies to songwriting. Notable writers such as Frank Dycus, Charlie Black, Roger Murrah, Jim Rushing, and many others saw an enthusiastic and talented writer in Chris, just as Skaggs heard in "Same Ol' Love," Ricky's top 5 hit with Epic Records. That song, written by Chris and Greg Barnhill was the first major cut for both writers. On March 16, 1991, only a few hours after the recording of "Same Ol' Love," Chris was killed in a tragic plane accident near San Diego along with other members of Reba McEntire's band as well as her tour manager.Pete Fisher, then of Warner Songs and currently general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, and Kari Estrin, then MerleFest consultant and "Pickin' for Merle" video associate producer, initiated the contest to honor the memory of Austin.


Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via, Sam Quinn and Johnny Williams just to name a few.

Entries accepted from October 1, 2014 - February 1, 2015

$30 per entry

If mailing in your entry, please make checks payable to Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

Prizes will be awarded to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners in each category. All prizes will be awarded to name on entry form. Prizes are awarded jointly to all authors. Division of prizes among co-authors is the responsibility of winners. The winner of all prizes worth $600 or more will receive a 1099-MISC. Taxes are the responsibility of winners. Void where prohibited. All federal, state and local laws and regulations apply. Non US citizens are subject to US taxes when prize is received.

1st Place Winners Receive

  • A performance on the Cabin Stage at MerleFest
  • $500 cash
  • Two boxes of D'Addario strings
  • A gift certificate from Jackson's Music ($100)
  • Things just got more interesting for the winning songwriters of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest: renowned label Pinecastle Records will present a one-song contract to each of the first place winners in all categories - bluegrass, gospel/inspirational, country and general categories. This includes:

    • Winners will each receive $500 to record their winning songs.
    • Pinecastle Records will manufacture a four-song compilation CD of the winning songs and distribute it to radio stations across the United States and Canada.
    • Each winning song will receive worldwide digital distribution.
    • Winners will receive the standard mechanical royalty rate for each sale.
    • A print advertisement will be placed in American Songwriter Magazine promoting the first place winners and their winning songs.

     Each winner may opt out of the Pinecastle Records prize if he or she is not interested in participating or is contractually unable to participate. If a winner does choose to opt out, his or her prizes listed above are forfeited.

2nd Place Winners Receive

  • A slot on the Friday night Songwriters Coffeehouse
  • $250 cash
  • One box of D'Addario strings
  • A gift certificate from Jackson's Music ($50)

3rd Place Winners Receive

  • A slot on the Friday night Songwriters Coffeehouse
  • $50 cash
  • One box of D'Addario strings
  • A gift certificate from Jackson's Music ($50)

All finalists will receive a one-year subscription to Acoustic Guitar Magazine and strings from Kyser Musical Products.

Three finalists from each category compete on the Austin Stage at MerleFest in Wilkesboro, NC. Transportation to and from the festival and any other expenses are the responsibility of the finalist. Three nights of lodging (room and taxes only) are provided for each finalist. Each finalist receives up to three all-access passes to the festival. Co-writers will be treated as one writer for lodging, credentials, and prizes.

First place winners of each category perform their song on the Cabin Stage. Each song in the finals must be performed live by the composer, with no more than one accompanist other than a co-writer and no performances to pre-recorded tracks.

Entry Deadline is February 1, 2015

The 2014 finalists were:

1st Place – Paul Harrigill (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) & Amber Nugent (Ferriday, Louisiana) – “I’m Blue
2nd Place – Chelsea McBee (Shepherdstown, W.Va.) – “Gone-A-Rye
3rd Place  – Josh Crews (Boone, N.C.) – “Crossties

1st Place – Frank Hurd (Raleigh, N.C.) – “Light
2nd Place – Gary Alan Ferguson (Alexandria, Va.) – “Time To Praise the Lord
3rd Place – Allen Smith and Corey Smith (Robbins, N.C.) – “Without Love

1st Place – Becky Warren (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Call Me Sometime
2nd Place – Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) – “If You Never Let Me Go
3rd Place – Dan Buehner (Salt Lake City, Utah) & Ben Childs (Oxford, Miss.) – “Cadillac"

1st Place – Joseph Terrell (Chapel Hill, N.C.) – “Angelina Jane is Long Gone
2nd Place – Sarah Potenza & Ian Crossman (Nashville, Tenn.) – “My Turn"
3rd Place – Clint Alphin (Dunn, N.C.) – “Nobody Knows My Name

Entries accepted from October 1, 2014 - February 1, 2015

$30 per entry

If mailing in your entry, please make checks payable to Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

The CASC will be accepting entries beginning October 1, 2014; the contest deadline is February 1, 2015. Finalists will be announced on this website by April 1st.


1) Income – The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is open to those whose primary source of income (50% or more) is not derived from songwriting or publishing. Income from performing gigs is not songwriting income. Be aware that some songwriters may play their music on tour or have their own album. All finalists will be asked to sign an official Acknowledgment of Eligibility. This also applies to co-writer.

2) Original Work – All entries must be the original work of contestant and shall not infringe on any copyright or any other rights of any third party. Contestant may enter as many songs as desired, but this does not necessarily increase the chances of winning.

3) Re-entry – First place winners during the past five years may not re-enter in the specific category in which they won. Second and third place winners during the past year may not re-enter the same song. Co-writers are subject to the same eligibility requirements as the entrant. Artists paid to perform at MerleFest are not eligible to enter the CASC in the year they are being paid.

4) Musical Composition – Each song submitted must have both instrumentation and lyrics. NO INSTRUMENTAL SONGS. Lyrics should also be written and recorded in English. There are four categories in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest: Bluegrass, Country, General, and Gospel/Inspirational. Judges will determine the musical parameters of each category and reserve the right to reassign a song to a more appropriate category if necessary.

Online entry form and signature on entry form constitutes each song submitted is an original work and releases The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, sponsors, Wilkes Community College, and MerleFest from all liability. Entry also constitutes permission to use winner's name and likeness for future advertising and publicity without compensation.

Only entries submitted according to the rules will be considered. No deadline extensions. No exceptions. Compact disc will not be returned. Entry fees are non-refundable. Entrant must perform song live in the finals at MerleFest.


The on-site live competition takes place at the Chris Austin Stage in Alumni Hall on the campus of Wilkes Community College on festival Friday. Each song in the finals must be performed live by the composer, with no more than one accompanist other than a co-writer and no performances to pre-recorded tracks. When there are two or more songwriters the limit on stage is three individuals. The first tie-breaker in the finals will be the highest score given to a song by an individual judge.


Entries will be judged by a panel of professional songwriters, publishers, or other music industry professionals from the Nashville music community who volunteer their time. Please know that all submissions are listened to and treated fairly by a team of volunteer judges. The preliminary judging is in Nashville and will continue to be due to the volume of industry professionals that can be drawn upon for their expertise. All entries will be judged on originality, lyrics, melody and the song's overall commercial potential. Music production and performance quality are not considered. All decisions by judges will be final. Round 1 takes place in Nashville, Tenn. and final round at MerleFest. Finalists will be determined and posted on the website before April 1. Only finalists will be personally notified. No personal emails will be sent to entrants who did not make the final 12. No entrants will be provided with scores or evaluations of their entries; it is not feasible at this time due to the number of entries. 2014 Judges for the on-site competition: Darrell Scott, Charles Humphrey III, & Niall Toner.

Entry Deadline is February 1, 2015