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Judges Announced for Chris Austin Songwriting Contest
Judges Announced for Chris Austin Songwriting Contest
Deadline to Enter is February 19, 2014

Songwriters Charles Humphrey III, Darrell Scott and Niall Toner will be among the judges that determine the winners of MerleFest 2014’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Now in its 22nd year, the contest is an extraordinary opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of music industry professionals, under the direction of this year’s volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale.

The first round of judging takes place in Nashville by the panel of music industry professionals. The final round of judging will take place at MerleFest 2014, which will be April 24-27, 2014. The on-site judges, Humphrey, Scott and Toner, bring a wide-ranging – and even international – trove of experience to the judges’ table for this year’s contest:

Charles Humphrey III - 2014 CASC JudgeCharles R Humphrey III is best known in the bluegrass world of songwriting for his work with Steep Canyon Rangers. His third solo album with Songs From The Road Band, "Traveling Show," will be released summer 2014. He writes regularly in the genres of bluegrass, country, gospel and Americana, often collaborating with veteran writers. He has had song cuts placed in radio, television and film.

Niall Toner - 2014 CASC JudgeNiall Toner is an Irish bluegrass musician, songwriter and well-known radio broadcaster from Dublin. His songs have been recorded by the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Albert Lee, the Fleadh Cowboys and The Special Consensus, among others. His composition, "Nuns Island Reel," has been included in the biggest-selling video game in history, Grand Theft Auto IV. Toner has been performing since the early sixties; he formed his current outfit, the Niall Toner Band, in 2001, which has recorded three albums to date. Toner currently hosts “Roots Freeway” on Ireland’s RTE radio. He is also the author of “Nuts and Bolts,” a guide to writing better songs.

Darrell Scott - 2014 CASC JudgeA Grammy-nominated artist, an award-winning songwriter and a first-call session musician, Darrell Scott is one of today’s more successful country songwriters, placing songs with the biggest names in country music, including Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Travis Tritt, Brad Paisley, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill and Sam Bush. In 2002, "Long Time Gone," the advance single from the Dixie Chicks' chart-topping, multi-platinum album “Home,” was a Scott composition that had first appeared on “Real Time.” It crested at No. 2 in the country charts, and it earned Scott a second Grammy nomination, this one for Best Country Song. Scott won the 2007 Song of the Year award from the Americana Music Association for his song "Hank William's Ghost." In January 2011, his album “A Crooked Road” won the award for the Country Album category from The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards. Scott’s latest album, recorded with Tim O’Brien, is “Memories and Moments.”

There are now three ways to enter the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest:
• The contest accepts mail-in applications from aspiring songwriters via U.S. Mail (P.O. Box 121855, Nashville, TN 37212). To enter by mail, visit www.merlefest.org/CASCRulesandEntry for a downloadable form and instruction.
• Entries may also be submitted through Sonicbids: www.sonicbids.com/chrisaustinsongwritingcontest.
• And new for 2014, applicants may now submit an online registration directly to the CASC website (www.merlefest.org/ChrisAustinSongwritingContest/). Applicants may complete the application and upload their song entry as an .mp3 or related file. A separate application must be completed for each contest entry. Additionally, applicants may pay the entry fee of $30 per submission using PayPal.

The deadline for contest submissions is February 19, 2014.

The first round of the CASC competition takes place in Nashville, Tenn., and is narrowed down to 12 finalists representing four categories: bluegrass, country, general and gospel/inspirational. Finalists are then invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place during MerleFest on the campus of Wilkes Community College.

Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest help support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception the scholarship has awarded over $38,000 to 79 deserving students.

To learn more details about the contest, visit www.merlefest.org/ChrisAustinSongwritingContest.

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of the late American music legend Doc Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of "traditional plus" music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The festival hosts over 130 artists, performing on 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs. 

About Chris Austin:
Chris Austin, from Boone, North Carolina, worked as a sideman for Ricky Skaggs for three years, singing and playing guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. During that time he was discovered by executives at Warner Bros. Nashville, who offered him a recording contract. While releasing singles including “Blues Stay Away From Me,” “I Know There’s a Heart in There Somewhere” and “Out of Step,” Austin also developed his songwriting skills, as evidenced in “Same Ol’ Love,” recorded by Skaggs in 1991. On March 16, 1991, Austin’s life was cut tragically short when the private plane carrying him and six other members of Reba McEntire’s band, as well as her tour manager, crashed in the mountains near San Diego. Pete Fisher, then of Warnersongs and currently general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, and Kari Estrin, then MerleFest consultant and “Pickin’ for Merle” video associate producer, initiated the songwriting contest to honor Austin’s memory.