Merlefest 2019 music festival photos by Pixels On Paper Photography
MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest
Accepting Entries for 2020 Festival on October 1
September 16, 2019 – Wilkesboro, NC – MerleFest, presented by Window World, will begin accepting entries for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (CASC) on October 1. CASC is one of the most acclaimed songwriting contests in roots and Americana music and has a reputation for launching careers as well as drawing attention to important new talent. The contest is split into four genre-based categories including bluegrass, general, gospel, and country. First through third place winners will be chosen in each category at MerleFest 2020, set to take place on April 23 – 26, 2020. MerleFest is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C. First-tier tickets for MerleFest 2020 will go on sale on November 12th, with Tier 2 pricing beginning February 17th, 2020, and Tier 3 pricing beginning April 23rd, 2020.
Now in its 28th year, CASC is an extraordinary opportunity for songwriters to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of Nashville music industry professionals, under the direction of volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. Aspiring songwriters may submit entries to the contest using the online entry form at or by mailing entries to MerleFest/CASC, P.O. Box 120, Wilkesboro, NC, 28697. All entries received during October and November will receive an early entry discount price of $25 per entry, while submissions received in December and January will require a $30 fee per entry. All lyrics must be written in English and no instrumental entries will be accepted. The deadline to enter is February 1, 2020.
Finalists will be invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place Friday, April 24, during MerleFest. First-place winners will receive $600 cash from MerleFest, a performance slot on MerleFest’s Cabin Stage on Friday night, and a 12-13 minute set on Saturday.
“We are extremely proud of the career successes achieved by many CASC alumni. Among these are Gillian Welch (1993), David Via (1997, 2001), Johnny Williams (1998, 1999), Tift Merritt (2000), Becky Buller (2001), Michael Reno Harrell (2003), Adrienne Young (2003), Martha Scanlan (2003), Sam Quinn (2006) and Jeanette Williams (2007),” said Stacee Whitley, coordinator of MerleFest’s CASC. “More recent alumni include Lara Lynn (2011) and Gary Alan Ferguson (2014). Other recent discoveries from the contest are Melody Walker of Front Country and Joseph Terrell of Mipso. I encourage all songwriters to put the final touches on your masterpiece and submit it to the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest!”
CASC 2019 Winners
1st Place: Anya Hinkle (Asheville, NC) – “Ballad of Zona Abston”
2nd Place: James E. Woolsey (Petersburg, IN), David Foster (Petersburg, IN) – “Sugar Ridge Road”
3rd Place: Wyatt Espalin (Hiawassee, GA) – “Light Coming Through”
1st Place: Andrew Millsaps (Ararat, NC) – “Ain’t No Genie (In a Bottle of Jack)”
2nd Place: Hannah Kaminer (Asheville, NC) – “Don’t Open Your Heart”
3rd Place: Shannon Wurst (Fayetteville, AR) – “Better Than Bourbon”
1st Place: Alexa Rose (Asheville, NC) – “Medicine for Living”
2nd Place: Bryan Elijah Smith (Dayton, VA) – “In Through the Dark”
3rd Place: Wright Gatewood (Chicago, IL) – “First”
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”
Net proceeds from the contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded over $45,500 to deserving students. For contest rules, ways to enter, and more details about the contest, visit
New for Merlefest 2020 is the “Patio At MerleFest.” This ticket-upgrade includes comfortable seating in a covered area with great views of the Watson and Cabin stages, access to friends and family seating area and a deluxe air-conditioned mobile bathroom unit, snacks and beverages, and live video displays from the Watson and Cabin stages.
CASC winner Andrew Millsaps performs at MerleFest 2019
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