WILKESBORO — MerleFest, presented by Window World and taking place April 28-May 1, has assembled a distinguished team of songwriters — acclaimed bluegrass songwriter Milan Miller, powerful folk and Appalachian artist John Cloyd Miller and cutting-edge Nashville songwriter Sarah Potenza (of NBC’s “The Voice”) — to judge the on-site final round of this year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.
Multi-instrumentalist Milan Miller may joke that he first moved to Nashville because he “heard they were running out of guitar players,” but his time in the city revealed to him an independent music community that belies any pretense or cliché. With light-speed picking and his trusty tenor voice, Miller quickly became a first-call sideman and collaborator.
Traveling the world, he has made appearances at venues ranging from Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California, and from the Grand Ole Opry to Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Along the miles traveled, his songs have been recorded by some of the most popular names in bluegrass. The fruits of this labor have yielded five number one songs in the genre, a steady stream of others that have graced the top twenty, two nominations for Song of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association, and a multimedia award from the North Carolina Society of Historians. In 2013 he released “Poison Cove,” his critically acclaimed solo debut.
A performing artist and songwriter based in Asheville, John Cloyd Miller was a first place winner in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in 2013 and a recipient of an Artist Fellowship for songwriting by the North Carolina Arts Council in that same year. A founding member of the acclaimed Americana trio Red June, Miller performs with his wife, Natalya Weinstein, as the Appalachian duo Zoe & Cloyd. Miller has recorded six albums with his various music projects and has performed all across the country at events such as Grey Fox, MerleFest, Suwannee SpringFest, FreshGrass, Shakori Hills, Music City Roots, Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. In addition to performing, Miller teaches songwriting and applied traditional music at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa.
Known for her recent success on NBC’s “The Voice,” Sarah Potenza is a singer-songwriter, rock ‘n’ folk artist living in Nashville, Tennessee. Potenza’s song “My Turn” took second place in the 2014 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Her voice and her songs have been praised by Billboard, Rolling Stone, John Oates, Pharrell Williams, Todd Snider, Elizabeth Cook and more. Potenza has performed her original compositions at The Grand Ole Opry, The Bluebird Cafe, Music City Roots, Americana Music Festival, Rhythm & Roots Festival and others. She is recording her first solo album, “Monster,” set to release this spring.
Now in its 24th year, 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 this year’s volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. The first-place winners will receive $500 cash from MerleFest and a performance slot on the Cabin Stage on Friday night at MerleFest 2016.
The deadline to enter the contest is Feb. 1. Aspiring songwriters may submit entries to the contest using the online entry form or by mailing entries to MerleFest/CASC, P.O. Box 120, Wilkesboro, NC 28697. Submissions require a $30 fee per entry. To read more about the contest history, rules and prizes, visit http://merlefest.org/casc#tab-1.
This year MerleFest and multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer Becky Buller are offering a great opportunity for all songwriters prior to the deadline to enter the 2016 contest. MerleFest will hold a live Twitter Q&A session with Buller on Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. She will answer questions about songwriting as well as her experience winning the MerleFest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest in 2001 and performing at the festival.
Buller has traipsed the world over performing bluegrass, Americana and roots. In 2015, she was honored by the International Bluegrass Music Association with three awards: Emerging Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Recorded Event of the Year for the song “Southern Flavor.” She also won the IBMA 2006 Album of the Year award.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for songwriters to ask questions of and get advice from one of the industry’s most talented songwriters. And because it will happen in January, it gives songwriters time to polish up their songs before submitting them to the contest,” said Laurie Brintle-Jarvis, coordinator of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.
The first round of the CASC competition takes place in Nashville, and is narrowed down to 12 finalists representing four categories: bluegrass, country, general and gospel/inspirational. Noted bluegrass, Americana, and country songwriters Kristy Cox, Michaela Anne and Caleb Klauder will be part of the team of industry experts assisting during this preliminary round. Finalists are then invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place April 29 during MerleFest on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro.
Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception the scholarship has awarded more than $34,600 to 84 deserving students.
The MerleFest 2016 lineup is viewable at www.MerleFest.org/lineup.
Tickets for MerleFest 2016 are now on sale and may be purchased at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. A three-tiered pricing structure is offered for MerleFest 2016: the Early Bird Tier 1 ticket discount is available through Feb. 15, and the Early Bird Tier 2 ticket discount will run from Feb. 16 through April 27. The third price tier will be gate pricing. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the extended early bird discount.