Pinecastle Records presents Austin Songwriting Competition winners
Hunter Owens

Among the prizes received by the winners of MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Competition in 2015 was a contract with Pinecastle Records. The one-song contract for a compilation disc, to be promoted both to the public and to radio stations in the U.S and Canada, also included $500 toward recording expenses. It was the first time Pinecastle has offered this bonus to the prizewinners in each category.

Three of the four 2015 winners participated in the project, now available via the Pinecastle Records website and on iTunes. The winning song in the Gospel/Inspirational category, “Brother Paul,” written by Robert Holthauser and Rick Pardue of Poplar Springs, NC, is performed by Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge. “Wild Bird,” written and performed by Carter Sampson of Oklahoma, represents the General category. Hunter and Suzy Owens, all the way from Sydney, Australia, contribute their winner in the Country category, “It Would Be Easier.”

Judges for the final round of the 2015 contest included Americana artist Jesse Bellamy, of the famed Bellamy family, Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison and bluegrass legend Peter Rowan. Winners are awarded 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.

Pinecastle Records, with offices in Greenville, SC, was founded in 1989 to foster new talent in the bluegrass genre. Its artists include many well known bluegrass groups including The Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Charlie Waller & The Country Gentlemen, Jesse Brock, Terry Eldridge, Eddie Adcock, Town Mountain and many more. Pinecastle artist Dale Ann Bradley was nominated for this year’s Grammy in the Best Bluegrass Album category for Pocket Full of Keys.

MerleFest, the “traditional plus” roots music festival begun by flatpicking legend Doc Watson in 1988, returns to Wilkes Community College campus April 28 to May 1, 2016. Its annual Chris Austin Songwriting Competition honors the memory of Chris Austin, a local musician and songwriter from the area, who worked as a sideman for Ricky Skaggs. Austin was offered a recording contract by Warner Bros. Nashville and released several original singles under its banner, including “Blues Stay Away From Me,” “I Know There’s a Heart in There Somewhere” and “Out of Step.” Skaggs recorded Austin’s song, “Same Ol’ Love,” a top 5 hit from Epic Records, in 1991. Chris’s life was cut short when he died later that year in plane crash with members of Reba McEntire’s band while on tour.

The MerleFest songwriting contest was established in Chris Austin’s honor by 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, in 1992. Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via, Sam Quinn and Johnny Williams are among the many songwriters who won the award. Net proceeds from the contest go to support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship has awarded over $38,000 to 81 deserving students so far.

For more information on this year’s contest, visit MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Competition webpage.