Black Music Matters Festival

MerleFest's Austin Songwriting contest winners named

Sunday, April 28, 2019 – Three of four winners of MerleFest's Chris Austin Songwriting Competition winners hail from North Carolina, the state where the festival is based.

First place winners were:

Bluegrass - Anya Hinkle (Asheville, N.C.) - "Ballad of Zona Abston"

Country - 1st Place - Andrew Millsaps (Ararat, N.C.) - "Ain't No Genie (In a Bottle of Jack)

General: 1st Place - Alexa Rose (Asheville, N.C.) - "Medicine for Living"

Gospel/inspirational: Russ Parrish (Burnsville, Minn.), Topher King (Savage, Minn.) - "Washed By The Water"

Hinkle is a member of the band Tellico, which recorded her song. "Zona told me her life story over her kitchen table," said Hinkle. "It illustrates her strong will to survive through decades of crisis, stress and difficulty and reflects the desperation of struggling people, particularly women. When you really listen to what someone's been through, you naturally develop a lot of compassion for what people have to deal with in this world. It was a story I had to put to song." Other winners were:

Bluegrass:
2nd Place- James E. Woolsey (Petersburg, Ind.), David Foster (Petersburg, Ind.) - "Sugar Ridge Road"
3rd Place- Wyatt Espalin (Hiawassee, Ga.) - "Light Coming Through"

Country:
2nd Place - Hannah Kaminer (Asheville, N.C.) - "Don't Open Your Heart"
3rd Place - Shannon Wurst (Fayetteville, Ark.) - "Better Than Bourbon"

General:
2nd Place- Bryan Elijah Smith (Dayton, Va.) - "In Through the Dark"
3rd Place- Wright Gatewood (Chicago, Ill.) - "First"

Gospel/inspirational:
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"

All 12 finalists in 4 categories performed on the Cabin Stage. Now in its 27th year, the contest is an opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of music industry professionals (Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, better known as The Milk Carton Kids, Cruz Contreras of The Black Lillies and Texas singer Radney Foster) under the direction of volunteer contest chairperson, Jim Lauderdale.

The first round of the CASC took place in Nashville and was narrowed down from 970 entries to 12 finalists representing four categories.

Each of the 12 finalists received admission and lodging for three nights at MerleFest. Finalists attended a workshop Friday morning given by D'Addario prior to the finals. After the contest, all finalists took part in a songwriting mentoring session with Lauderdale and the on-site judges.

The first-place winners in each category received $600 cash from MerleFest, a performance at the Cabin Stage on Friday night, and a 20-minute set on Saturday at the Cabin Stage. First-place winners received a live performance/recording session with Saloon Studios Live, D'Addario strings, Shubb Capos and their winning song will be aired on WNCW 88.7. Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest help support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship.

The four-day festival, which included Del McCoury, The Avett Brothers and Wynonna, ended today.