By Mark Kemp

WILKESBORO, N.C. — Some of Americana’s greatest contemporary songwriters, including Gillian Welch and Tift Merritt, began their careers by winning the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest held each year at Merlefest.

Acoustic Guitar is a sponsor of the contest, and I sat down with the contest’s chairperson, Grammy-winning songwriter Jim Lauderdale, on Friday behind the Doc Watson Stage at Merlefest for a chat about the importance of such competitions.

You’ll also get a peek at one of the winners: Sarah Sample of Sheridan, Wyoming, whose “A Heart That Falls Apart” took first place in the general category.

Other winners:

Bluegrass
1st Place – Aaron Bibelhauser (Louisville, Ky.) – “Blue Collar Dreams”
2nd Place – Courtney Rorrer (Madison, N.C.) and Asa Gravley (Beckley, West Va.) – “Midnight Tears”
3rd Place – Cindy Giejda (Farmingdale, N.J.) – “Jail Break”

Gospel/Inspirational
1st Place – Marcy Each (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) – “On the Cross Built for Me”
2nd Place – Austin Stanley (Nashville, Tenn.) – “The Face of God”
3rd Place – Corey Smith and Allen Smith (Fayetteville, N.C.) – “The Road”

Country
1st Place – Buddy Guido (Mohawk, N.Y.), Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, N.M.) and Willie Scheollkopf (Buffalo, N.Y.) – “This Livin’ May Be Killing Me”
2nd Place – Sarah Morris (Shoreview, Minn.) – “I Go Back”
3rd Place – Meris Gantt of Handlebar Betty (Blowing Rock, N.C) – “House of Cards”

General
1st Place – Sarah Sample (Sheridan, Wyo.) – “A Heart That Falls Apart”
1st Place – Adam Bonomo (Brooklyn, N.Y.) – “Redshifted”
2nd Place – David Morris (Gaithersburg, Md.) and Chris Dockins (Burke, Va.) – “Weeds”

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