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Two Boone Musicians Among Finalists for 2017 MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

Alexa Rose of Boone was announced as a finalist in MerleFest’s 2017 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Listen to Rose’s “Borrow Your Heart” above or better yet pick up one of her albums here. 

By Jesse Wood

Two Boone musicians were announced as finalists in the 2017 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (CASC). The competition is hosted by MerleFest, which takes place Thursday, April 27 to Sunday, April 30 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. 

Alexa Rose of Boone was named a finalist in the General category for her song, “Borrow Your Heart.” This song is on her new Low and Lonesome record. Shay Martin Lovette, also of Boone, was also named a finalist in the General category for a tune penned with Locke Griffith of Carrboro called “Bermuda Run.” 

The writers of the 12 songs will perform on the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall on Friday, April 28. 

A highly-competitive contest, this year’s 25th annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest featured more than 846 entries. See the list of finalists for the four songwriting categories – Bluegrass, Gospel/Inspiration, Country and General – below.  

The first round of the competition took place in Nashville and the first-round judges – critically acclaimed bluegrass instrumentalist Chris Jones; North Carolina musician Jim Avett, who is father to Seth and Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers; natural-born storyteller Ken Tizzard; and Country Hall of Fame honoree Ed Snodderly – whittled down the field to the 12 finalists. 

The judges of the finalists are lifelong songwriter Mark Brinkman; Berklee College of Music songwriting scholarship recipient Maya de Vitry, who is a member of The Stray Birds; and Joseph Terrell of Mipso. 

“The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is an extraordinary opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of Nashville music industry professionals, under the direction of volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale,” according to a MerleFest release. 

First-place winners will receive $500 cash from MerleFest and a coveted performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday night at MerleFest 2017. All finalists will also take part in a songwriting mentoring session with Lauderdale and the final round of CASC judges. 


  • Alexa Rose (Boone, N.C.) – “Borrow your Heart”
  • Catherine Backus (Bedford, Va.) – “Tomatoes”
  • Shay Martin Lovette (Boone, N.C.), Locke Griffith (Carrboro, N.C.) – “Bermuda Run”


  • Mike Bentley (Virgie, Ky.) – “Waiting at the Harbor”
  • Linda Jean Stokley (Versailles, Ky.) – “Cigarette Trees”
  • Matthew Hurd (Rogersville, Tenn.) – “Life Underground”


  • Ian Meadows (Chester, Conn.) – “Faithless Preacher”
  • Kevin Hale (Brentwood, Tenn.) – “I’m Finally Going Home”
  • Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, N.M.), Buddy Guido (Mohawk, N.Y.), Willie Schoellkopf (Buffalo, N.Y.) – “Trap Door (In the Ceiling)”


  • Carly Burruss (Cumming, Ga.) – “Communion Wine”
  • Mary Bragg (Nashville, Tenn.), Liz Poston (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Lucky Strike”
  • Erin James (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Wilted Flower”


For more information about MerleFest, the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest and sponsor Window World, see below: 

The lineup for MerleFest 2017 is viewable at www.MerleFest.org/lineup. And, tickets are on sale now and may be purchased at MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. An advance ticket discount runs through April 26, 2017. Gate pricing begins on the first day of the festival.

Mobile App Ready for Download

MerleFest has unveiled the 2017 MerleFest mobile app, now available for download. The MerleFest mobile app is offered at no charge to users and features the MerleFest lineup and stage schedules, artist biographies, map, announcements, social media links and more. The app allows users to plan for their entire MerleFest experience. Users who currently have the MerleFest mobile app will receive a prompt on their phones to download the 2017 version of the app. The app is compatible with Android and iOS platforms. A bonus for MerleFest fans: once downloaded, the app will be fully functional without having connection to phone service.

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.

Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has been awarded to 84 deserving students.

About MerleFest

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 renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson, the son of the late American music legend Doc 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 Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

About Window World

Window World, headquartered in North Wilkesboro, N.C., is America’s largest replacement window and exterior remodeling company, with more than 200 locally owned offices nationwide. Founded in 1995, the company sells and installs windows, siding, doors and other exterior products, with a total of over 13 million windows sold to date. Window World is an ENERGY STAR partner, and its window products have earned the Good Housekeeping Seal for nine consecutive years. Additionally, through its charitable foundation Window World Cares, the Window World family provides funding for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where it was named New Corporate Partner of the Year in 2010. Since its inception in 2008, the foundation has raised over $7 million for St. Jude. Window World Inc. also supports the Veterans Airlift Command, a non-profit organization that facilitates free air transportation to wounded veterans and their families. For more information about Window World, visit www.WindowWorld.com or call 1-800 NEXT WINDOW. For home improvement and energy efficiency tips, décor ideas and more, follow Window World on Facebook and Twitter.