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Blowing Rock’s Meris Gantt to Compete in Chris Austin Songwriting Competition at MerleFest Friday, April 29

By Bailey Faulkner

Don’t miss out on one of the most exciting events at MerleFest this Friday!

Blowing Rock’s own Meris Gantt of local band Handlebar Betty will compete against musicians from around the country in the finals of The Chris Austin Songwriting Competition.

Gantt will perform her song “House of Cards” in the country division of the competition.

Chris Austin Songwriting Competition

MerleFest hosts the annual competition in memory of Boone native and musician Chris Austin. A sideman for Ricky Skaggs for three years, the banjo, guitar, mandolin and fiddle player died tragically in a 1991 plane crash along with the tour manager and six other members of Reba McEntire’s band.

After Austin’s death, Pete Fisher, general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, and Kari Estrin, a MerleFest consultant, initiated the songwriting contest. The CASC is now in its 24th year.

The CASC is judged by a panel of music industry professionals and will be under direction of volunteer contest chairperson and Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Jim Lauderdale. Before Friday’s competition, the finalists will have a chance to meet with Lauderdale and the panel of judges for a mentoring session.

Judges will score songs on originality, lyrics, melody and commercial potential. The winner of the competition will be able to perform his or her song with a full band on the Cabin Stage later that night.

Proceeds from the competition will go to the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since the scholarship’s inception, 84 students have received a total of $34,600 from the competition.

Gantt’s tune was one of only 12 songs that were chosen from the competition’s 744 entries. Gantt will take the Austin Stage in the Alumni Hall at Wilkes Community College to compete for the chance to win $600 and a slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday night. Click here to check out the other competitors.

Meris Gantt

Gantt has loved music since early childhood.

“I always really wanted to play,” Gantt said.

As a kid, she sang along with her mother and uncle and later picked up the guitar at age 13. Before long, Gantt began writing songs of her own, although she admits they weren’t the best.

While her songwriting career may have had a shaky start, Gantt feels much more confident about her most recent tunes. Since the winter, she has written about six songs that she feels are solid.

Handlebar Betty/Photo by Candice Corbin

Gantt plays some of her new songs in her local band, Handlebar Betty. Forming from elements of her first band Mountain Radio, Gantt’s new band, replacing acoustic guitar with electric, has more of a rock ‘n’ roll feel than Mountain Radio’s bluegrassy style. In addition to adding Jordan Lamb on electric guitar, the band recently picked up trumpeter Blake Bostain.

“Our main goal is to have cool people who happen to play music,” Gantt said.

Gantt has had her eye on MerleFest for a while now.

“I’ve wanted to play in MerleFest since I was like 17. I’m always so jealous of the performers,” Gantt said.

Since attending her first MerleFest at 17, Gantt has returned each year without fail. As a competitor in the CASC, she will finally have the chance to take the stage for herself.

“Just to be in the company of the people I have respected for so long is an honor,” Gantt said.

While she will be thrilled to perform her song along with accompanist and banjo player Chad Berry, Gantt would especially enjoy the chance to play her song with her full band if she wins the competition.

House of Cards

Although she is a bit surprised about her song being included in the country division of the competition, Gantt is very excited to perform “House of Cards.”

“It’s a new song, and I’m excited to play it,” Gantt said. “It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.”

If you want more information on Gantt and Handlebar Betty, click here.

Thankful for the seemingly endless musical opportunities in the High Country, Gantt’s band plans to continue improving musically by performing around the Boone and Blowing Rock area.

If you’re at MerleFest this Friday, don’t forget to support the High Country’s own Meris Gantt of Handlebar Betty. If you can’t attend the competition, keep your eyes open for the band’s upcoming shows. Gantt and her band are a must-see!