Finalists in the 24th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest are shown with Jim Lauderdale and the judges (Photo: Jim Thompson)

Finalists in the 24th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest are shown with Jim Lauderdale and the judges (Photo: Jim Thompson)

Winners were named in the 24th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, hosted by MerleFest 2016, following performances by finalists on April 29 during the popular roots-oriented music festival held at the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

This year’s contest attracted nearly 750 entries in four categories (bluegrass, country, general and gospel). Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale served as volunteer contest chairperson and led a songwriting mentoring session, along with the on-site judges, in which all of the finalists took part.

The winners in the bluegrass and general categories are listed below.

Bluegrass: First Place: Aaron Biebelhauser (Louisville, KY) for “Blue Collar Dreams,” Second Place: Courtney Rorrer (Madison, NC) and Asa Gravely (Beckley, WV) for “Midnight Tears,” and Third Place: Cindy Giejda (Farmingdale, NJ) for “Jail Break.”

General: First Place: Sarah Sample (Sheridan, WY) for “A Heart That Falls apart” and Adam Bonomo (Brooklyn, NY) for “Redshifted,” and Second Place: David Morris (Gaithersburg, MD) and Chris Dockins (Burke, VA) for “Weeds.”

Although generally does not cover country and gospel music, the winners in those categories are as follows:

Country: First Place: Buddy Guido (Mohawk, NY), Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, NM) and Willie Scheollkopf (Buffalo, NY) for “This Livin’ May Be Killing Me,” Second Place: Sarah Morris (Shoreview, MN) for “I Go Back,” and Third Place: Meris Gantt of Handlebar Betty (Blowing rock, NC) for “House of Cards.”

Gospel/Inspirational: First Place: Marcy Each (Cedar Rapids, IA) for “On the Cross Built for Me,” Second Place: Austin Stanley (Nashville, TN) for “The Face of God,” and Third Place: Corey Smith and Allen Smith (Fayetteville, NC) for “The Road.”

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest was established to honor the memory of Chris Austin, a songwriter and former sideman for Ricky Skaggs. Austin’s life was tragically cut short when a private plane carrying him and six other members of Reba McEntire’s band, as well as her tour manager, crashed in California in 1991. In the contest that is open to those whose primary source of income is not derived from songwriting or publishing, songs are judged based on originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential. Previous winners of the contest include Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via, Eliot Bronson and Johnny Williams. Net proceeds from the contest help support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship that has provided financial support to 81 students since its inception.

Founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson, MerleFest is considered one of America’s premier music festivals. Initially created to celebrate “traditional plus” music – a mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region — the four-day event now embraces Americana, country, blues, rock and other musical styles as well.