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WILKESBORO— From its first incarnation in 1993, MerleFest’s annual Chris Austin Songwriting Competition has seen the likes of Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, and Martha Scanlan rise to the top of an always competitive field of up-and-coming songwriters.

Legendary songwriters have presided over the competition from the start as judges, too. Darrell Scott, Hayes Carll, and the late, great Guy Clark have all taken a turn at judging the CASC.

This year finds the CASC adapting to the current state of the world and forging on despite the cancelation of MerleFest 2020. Judging was coordinated by the volunteer chair of the CASC and award-winning songwriter and Americana pioneer, Jim Lauderdale. Lauderdale enlisted industry professionals Ashlee Jean Trott-Lurgio (senior producer, Music City Roots), Justin Hiltner (associate editor, The Bluegrass Situation), and heralded singer/songwriter Lauren Morrow to choose 12 finalists in four categories.

“We are very excited to announce some good news,” says Ted Hagaman, MerleFest festival director. “Today we announce the 12 finalists for the 2020 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. CASC 2020 had one of the largest number of participants in the history of the competition with some of the best songs ever presented. We congratulate these 12 and look forward to naming category winners at the 2021 festival.”

This year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Competition finalists are:


Aaron Burdett (Saluda, N.C.) – “Rockefeller”

Joel Mabus (Portage, Mich) – “Shine”

Molly Mathewson (Athens, Ill.) – “The Tie that Binds”


Marie Bradshaw (Centerville, Utah) – “American Dream”

Sarah Jones (Nashville, Tenn.), Royale Lynn (Nashville, Tenn.), Priscilla Block (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Wyoming”

Sarah Jane Nelson (Nashville, Tenn.), Kenny Foster (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Sins of the Father”


Jomo Edwards (Austin, Texas) – “You Need It”

Dori Freeman (Galax, Va.) – “The Rollin’ Hills”

Bradley Lauretti (Shelton, Conn.) – “South Dakota”


Mark Atkinson (Charleston, W. Va.) – “Home”

Benjamin Luckhaupt (West Harrison, Ind.) – “Songs About Heaven”

Erinn Peet-Lukes (Golden, Colo.) – “Take Back Your Angels”

In response to directives from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and growing concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, Wilkes County officials have canceled all mass gatherings of more than 50 people in Wilkes County through the end of April. Therefore, MerleFest 2020 has been canceled. MerleFest will be offering three options for those who have purchased 2020 tickets through the official MerleFest ticketing system:

Option 1: Convert your purchase to a donation. Convert your festival purchase to a 100 percent tax-deductible contribution to the WCC Foundation to help sustain the mission of MerleFest and its impact on WCC students. Additionally, MerleFest has a private donor who issued a challenge to help offset pre-festival expenses already incurred in preparation for MerleFest 2020. The donor will match dollar for dollar funds raised up to $150,000.

Option 2: Roll your tickets forward. Ticket holders may roll purchases over to MerleFest 2021. This option allows fans to retain the same seat, package, parking, ticket, etc., at 2020 prices. The dates for next year’s festival are April 29-May 2.

Option 3: Refund. If for any reason, you feel that neither option 1 nor 2 is appropriate for you, Merlefest offers you a refund for your ticket order. All refunds must be requested by April 15. They will refund everything except service charges, which are non-refundable.

All ticket holders must contact the MerleFest box office between March 16 and April 15 to confirm the option you are choosing. If we don’t hear from you by April 15, we will roll your tickets forward to 2021. You can contact the MerleFest box office Monday-Thursday noon-5 p.m.and Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Here are four ways to contact::

Mail: MerleFest Tickets, P.O. Box 120, Wilkesboro, NC 28697

Phone: (800) 343-7857

Visit our box office located in the Walker Center at Wilkes Community College, Wilkesboro.

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