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Boone Guitar Picker, Songwriter is Finalist in Bluegrass Category of MerleFest’s Chris Austin Competition

By Jesse Wood

April 4, 2014. From over 567 entries, a Boone musician has made the final cut in the 22nd annual Chris Austin Songwriting competition that takes place at MerleFest in just a few weeks from Thursday to Sunday, April 24 to 27 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.

Josh Crews, who is a phenomenal picker on the guitar, was selected as one of the three finalists in the Bluegrass category for his song “Crossties.”

“I just feel so grateful and blessed to have this opportunity to share my music. This is the first time I have entered and I can’t believe I actually was chosen. I hope folks enjoy hearing my music as much as I enjoy playing it!” Crews wrote in a text message.

Check out a version of “Crossties” above that features the High Country band Mountain Radio.

Writers of the following twelve songs will compete on the Austin Stage at MerleFest on Friday, April 25. See the list of finalists below.   


  • Josh Crews (Boone, N.C.) – “Crossties”
  • Paul Harrigill (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and Amber Nugent (Ferriday, La.) – “I’m Blue”
  • Chelsea McBee of The Random Assortment & the Christian Lopez Band (Shepherdstown, W.Va.) – “Gone-A-Rye”


  • Gary Alan Ferguson (Alexandria, Va.) – “Time To Praise the Lord”
  • Frank Hurd (Raleigh, N.C.) – “Light” 
  • Allen Smith and Corey Smith of Ash Breeze (Robbins, N.C.) – “Without Love”


  • Dan Buehner (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Ben Childs (Oxford, Miss.), both of Hollering Pines – “Cadillac”
  • Kelsi Robertson-Harrigill (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) – “If You Never Let Me Go.”
  • Becky Warren (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Call Me Sometime” 


  • Clint Alphin (Dunn, N.C.) – “Nobody Knows My Name”
  • Sarah Potenza and Ian Crossman (both of Nashville, Tenn.) – “My Turn”
  • Joseph Terrell of Mipso (Chapel Hill, N.C.) – “Angelina Jane is Long Gone” 

Additional info below is from press release:

Each of the twelve finalists will enjoy admission and lodging for three nights at MerleFest and receive a mentoring session with contest chair and Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. In addition, the first place winners will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday night of the festival.

The first-round judges were:

  • Singer/songwriter/musician and former contest winter Tift Merritt
  • Claire Armbruster of Planning Stages, 
  • Ashlee-Jean Trott of Music City Roots, 
  • John Tumminello of Musicians Corner/Music City Unsigned, 
  • Judy McDonough of JEMMedia, 
  • Megan McNair of Sugar Hill Records and 
  • Whitney Holmes of the Americana Music Association.

Distinguished songwriters Darrell Scott, Charles Humphreys III (Steep Canyon Rangers) and Niall Toner will be among the second-round judges that determine this year’s winners.

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 $38,000 to 79 deserving students.

For 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 American music legend Doc Watson who passed away May 29, 2012. 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.