Chris Austin Songwriting Contest | MerleFest
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Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

Music. Moments. Memories.

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April 23-26, 2020

This year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Competition Winners



1st Place- Anya Hinkle (Asheville, N.C.) – “Ballad of Zona Abston”

2nd Place- James E. Woolsey (Petersburg, Ind.), David Foster (Petersburg, Ind.) – “Sugar Ridge Road”

3rd Place- Wyatt Espalin (Hiawassee, Ga.) – “Light Coming Through”


1st Place- Russ Parrish (Burnsville, Minn.), Topher King (Savage, Minn.) – “Washed By The Water”

2nd Place- Ashleigh Caudill (Nashville, Tenn.), Jon Weisberger (Cottontown, Tenn.) – “Walkin’ Into Gloryland”

3rd Place- Kevin T. Hale- (Brentwood, Tenn.) – “We All Die to Live Again”


1st Place- Alexa Rose (Asheville, N.C.) – “Medicine for Living”

2nd Place- Bryan Elijah Smith (Dayton, Va.) – “In Through the Dark”

3rd Place- Wright Gatewood (Chicago, Ill.) – “First”



1st Place- Andrew Millsaps (Ararat, N.C.) – “Ain’t No Genie (In a Bottle of Jack)

2nd Place- Hannah Kaminer  (Asheville, N.C.) – “Don’t Open Your Heart”

3rd Place- Shannon Wurst (Fayetteville, Ark.) – “Better Than Bourbon”

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 help support the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the Chris Austin Scholarship has helped 84 students and awarded over $34,600. This year, the event was judged by Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, better known as The Milk Carton Kids, Cruz Contreras of The Black Lillies, and Texas-troubadour Radney Foster. Mr. Americana Jim Lauderdale will host the competition and Mark Bumgarner will return as emcee for the finalist contest taking place at MerleFest’s Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 p.m.

1st Place Winners Received

  • Winning song performance on the Cabin Stage at MerleFest on Friday night
  • Perform a 20-35-minute set on the Cabin Stage on Saturday between 11:00 am – 3:30 pm
  • $600 cash
  • Two boxes of D’Addario strings
  • Shubb Capos
  • Saloon Studios Live will provide recording sessions for the four 1st place CASC winners
    • Saloon Studios Live will invite the CASC winners to join Saloon Studios for a live performance at one of their upcoming shows
    • CASC winners will either be opening acts or may be paired for a Rising Stars show on Saloon Studios performance show
    • Saloon Studios Live will provide each CASC winner with the unmastered audio and video recording from that performance to use at their discretion. Saloon Studios will retain a copy of that performance and may also use it at their discretion
    • Saloon Studios Live is an intimate, close-up experience where artists performer in a 100-seat, mid-nineteenth century saloon replica with state-of-the-art sound technology.
  • 1st place winning song in each category will be broadcast on WNCW-a non-commercial public radio station that broadcasts a varied format including folk, blues, jazz, reggae, Celtic, world, rock, bluegrass, indie and news.

2nd Place Winners Received

  • $300 cash
  • Shubb Capos
  • One box of D’Addario strings

3rd Place Winners Received

  • $100 cash
  • Shubb Capos
  • One box of D’Addario strings