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Blowing Rock’s Meris Gantt a Finalist in MerleFest Songwriting Competition

Meris Gantt is a member of the popular Blowing Rock-based band, Handlebar Betty.
Meris Gantt is a member of the popular Blowing Rock-based band, Handlebar Betty.

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, hosted by MerleFest, announces finalists for the 2016 contest. MerleFest 2016, presented by Window World, takes place from April 28-May 1, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C.

Among the finalists is Meris Gantt of Blowing Rock for her song, House of Cards. Gantt performs in the roots, rock and soul group, Handlebar Betty.

On Facebook, Gantt wrote that she was “over the moon” to be performing at MerleFest.

Writers of the following 12 songs, selected from over 744 entries, will compete on the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall at MerleFest on Friday, April 29:


Cindy Giejda (Farmingdale, N.J.) – “Jail Break”

Courtney Rorrer (Madison, N.C.) and Asa Gravley (Beckley, West Va.) – “Midnight Tears”

Aaron Bibelhauser (Louisville, Ky.) – “Blue Collar Dreams”


Austin Stanley (Nashville, Tenn.) – “The Face of God”

Marcy Each (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) – “On the Cross Built for Me”

Corey Smith and Allen Smith (Fayetteville, N.C.) – “The Road”


Sarah Morris (Shoreview, Minn.) – “I Go Back”

Meris Gantt of Handlebar Betty (Blowing Rock, N.C) – “House of Cards”

Buddy Guido (Mohawk, N.Y.), Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, N.M.) and Willie Scheollkopf (Buffalo, N.Y.) – “This Livin’ May Be Killing Me”


David Morris (Gaithersburg, Md.) and Chris Dockins (Burke, Va.) – “Weeds”

Sarah Sample (Sheridan, Wyo.) – “A Heart That Falls Apart”

Adam Bonomo (Brooklyn, N.Y.) – “Redshifted”

Now in its 24th 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 volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. The first place winners will receive $600 cash from MerleFest and a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday night. All finalists will get to take part in a songwriting mentoring session with Jim Lauderdale and the on-site judges for the final round of this year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Those judges are critically acclaimed bluegrass multi-instrumentalist Milan Miller; 2013 CASC winner and founding member of acclaimed Americana trio Red June John Cloyd Miller: and singer-songwriter Sarah Potenza, best known for her recent success on NBC’s “The Voice” and second place win in the 2014 CASC.

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. The first-round judges were Australian country and bluegrass musician/songwriter Kristy Cox; alt-country singer/songwriter Michaela Ann; songwriter/string music and classic country artist Caleb Klauder; Americana songwriter/performer/publisher Brink Brinkman; Joe Lurgio,  Bluegrass Underground/Tenbooks Media; Ashlee-Jean Trott of Music City Roots; and Whitney Holmes of the Americana Music Association.

Judging is based on a song¹s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential. The contest is open to those whose primary source of income (50 percent or more) is not derived from songwriting or publishing.

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 $34,600 to 84 deserving students.

For more details about the contest, visit www.MerleFest.org/ChrisAustinSongwritingContest.

Tickets may be purchased at www.merlefest.org/purchase or by calling 1-800-343-7857. A three-tiered pricing structure is offered for MerleFest 2016. The Early Bird Tier 1 ticket discount is available through February 15, 2016. An Early Bird Tier 2 ticket discount will run from February 16, 2016, through April 27, 2016. The third price tier will be gate pricing.

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 son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle 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 a diverse mix of artists on its 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.

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