MerleFest Congratulates 2015 CASC Winners

Published Monday, April 27, 2015 at 11:49 am
MerleFest 2015 congratulates the winners of the 23rd Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Here the finalists are pictured with Jim Lauderdale and the judges of the contest. Photo by William Sparklin.

MerleFest 2015 congratulates the winners of the 23rd Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Here the finalists are pictured with Jim Lauderdale and the judges of the contest. Photo by William Sparklin.

The Austin Stage was packed for MerleFest 2015’s 23rd Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Writers of the following twelve songs were selected from 639 entries and competed on the Austin Stage at MerleFest on Friday, April 24.

MerleFest congratulates the 2015 winners:

1st Place – Robert Holthauser (Poplar Springs, N.C.) and Rick Pardue (Poplar Springs, N.C.) – “Brother Paul”

2nd Place – Benjamin Luckhaupt (West Harrison, Ind.) and Titus Luckhaupt (West Harrison, Ind.) – “Seven Times”

3rd Place – Dave Herring (Charlottesville, Va.) – “Though I Walk”

1st Place – Carter Sampson (Oklahoma City, Okla.) – “Wild Bird”

2nd Place – Kristen Grainger of True North Band (Salem, Ore.) – “Doris Dean”

3rd Place – Laura Kaufman (Boone, N.C.) – “Through the Grave”


1st Place – David Morris (Gaithersburg, Md.), Mitch Matthews (Hamtramck, Mich.) and Dawn Kenney (Waltham, Mass.) – “Something About A Train”

2nd Place – Buddy Guido (Mohawk, N.Y.) and Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, N.M.) – “Deer in the Headlights Look”

3rd Place – Donna Hughes (Trinity, N.C.) – “Blackbeard”

1st Place – Hunter and Suzy Owens (Sydney, Australia) – “It Would Be Easier”

2nd Place – Savannah Smith (Asheville, N.C.) – “Mississippi”

3rd Place – Carri Smithey (Burlington, N.C.), Josh Coe (Saxapahaw, N.C.), Ryan Burgess (Burlington, N.C.) and Keith Ingalls (Burlington, N.C.)  – “No More.”

Each of the 12 finalists enjoyed admission and lodging for three nights at MerleFest and received a songwriting workshop with Jim Lauderdale, Jesse Bellamy and Peter Rowan. As the grand prize, renowned label Pinecastle Records presented a one-song contract to each first place winner in all categories – bluegrass, gospel/inspirational, country and general categories – along with $500 to record their winning songs. Pinecastle Records will manufacture a four-song compilation CD of the winning songs and distribute it to radio stations across the United States and Canada. The first place winners also received $500 cash from MerleFest and a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday night.

Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale served as volunteer contest chairperson. Critically-acclaimed Americana artist Jesse Bellamy, famed Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison and legendary bluegrass icon Peter Rowanserved as this year’s onsite judges.

Jim Lauderdale asked the audience members how many are songwriters. Most everyone in the audience admitted to be aspiring songwriters by a show of hands. Jim advised them to never give up on songwriting and to enter the songwriting contest. One representative from Yep Rock Records admitted that the songwriting contest is her favorite part of MerleFest.

The first-round judges were: Singer/songwriter/musician Tift MerrittDavid Mayfield, singer/songwriter/musician and Grammy-nominated producer; Joe Lurgio, Tenbooks Media; Ashlee-Jean Trott of Music City Roots; Judy McDonough of JEMMedia; Megan Bedford of Sugar Hill Records; singer/songwriter/musician Jason Lee McKinneyWhitney Holmes of the Americana Music Association; and singer/songwriter/musician Joseph Terrell, who is a member of Mipso and won the CASC general category last year for his song “Angelina Jane is Long Gone.” Tift Merritt won MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in 2000 and served as a first-round judge at MerleFest 2014.

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is a unique opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of Nashville music industry professionals, under the direction of this year’s volunteer contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale. Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential.

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 81 deserving students. Previous winners of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest include Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via and Johnny Williams.

For more details about the contest, visit

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.




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