MerleFest Announces Trent Wagler (of The Steel Wheels), Darrell Scott, and David Holt as Judges for 28th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

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January 8, 2020
MerleFest Announces Trent Wagler (of The Steel Wheels), Darrell Scott, and David Holt as Judges for 28th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest




MerleFest Announces Trent Wagler (of The Steel Wheels), Darrell Scott, and David Holt as Judges for 28th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

Applications due on or before Feb. 1


Jan. 8, 2020 – Wilkesboro, NC – MerleFest, presented by Window World®, is pleased to announce Trent Wagler (of The Steel Wheels), Darrell Scott, and David Holt as judges for the 28th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (CASC).


CASC is one of the most acclaimed songwriting contests in roots and Americana music and has a reputation for launching careers as well as drawing attention to important new talent. The contest is split into four genre-based categories including bluegrass, general, gospel, and country. First through third place winners will be chosen in each category at MerleFest 2020, set to take place on April 23 – 26, 2020. Finalists will be invited to the final round of the competition, which takes place Friday, April 24, during MerleFest. First-place winners will receive $600 cash from MerleFest, a performance slot on MerleFest’s Cabin Stage on Friday night, and a shared 30 minute set on Saturday.


Now in its 28th year, CASC is an extraordinary opportunity for songwriters to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of Nashville music industry professionals, under the direction of volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. Aspiring songwriters may submit entries to the contest using the online entry form at or by mailing entries to MerleFest/CASC, P.O. Box 120, Wilkesboro, NC, 28697. Submissions received in January will require a $30 fee per entry. All lyrics must be written in English and no instrumental entries will be accepted. The deadline to enter is February 1, 2020.


About Trent Wagler: Trent Wagler is a touring musician with the Americana band, The Steel Wheels. Since 2010, the band has released six studio albums and toured internationally and across the US, building a community of fans and friends. In addition to being lead singer, and playing guitar and banjo for The Steel Wheels, Trent’s songwriting has earned The Steel Wheels numerous Independent Music Awards (IMAs) and top 40 radio play on the Folk/Americana charts. Trent’s songs have also been featured on American Songwriter, Billboard, Paste, and NPR music among others. In 2013, Trent helped start the Red Wing Roots Music Festival in Mt. Solon, VA to cultivate and celebrate music culture in the Shenandoah Valley.


Since co-founding Red Wing Roots with his band mates and production company Black Bear Productions, Trent has found a home in the wider musical community. His work includes recording with Missy Raines, Robin and Linda Williams, and John McCutcheon, and collaborating on songwriting projects with Sarah Siskind, Ana Egge, Robby Hecht, and Justin Jones. In 2018, Wagler released an EP of Leonard Cohen covers with musical collaborator Derek Kratzer, under the artist name Indiscriminate Lovers.


When he is not touring and playing music, Trent enjoys cycling and exploring the outdoors from his Virginia home where he lives with his partner Arwen, and children, Bailey and Maia.


About Darrell Scott: Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Darrell Scott mines and cultivates the everyday moment, taking the rote, menial, mundane, and allowing it to be surreal, ever poignant, and candidly honest, lilting, blooming, and resonating. The words he fosters allow us to make sense of the world, what is at stake here, and our place in it. And ultimately, Darrell knows the sole truth of life is that love is all that matters, that we don’t always get it right, but that’s the instinctive and requisite circuitous allure of things, why we forever chase it, and why it is held sacred. A four-time Grammy Award nominee, his songs have been cut by Zac Brown Band, Travis Tritt, The Dixie Chicks, Guy Clark, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, and more.


After recently touring with Robert Plant and the Zac Brown Band (2 years with each), and producing albums for Malcolm Holcomb and Guy Clark and being named “songwriter of the year” for both ASCAP and NSAI, these days find him roaming his Tennessee wilderness acreage hiking along the small river, creating delicious meals with food raised on his property and playing music. He often leads songwriting workshops to help people tell their own truths with their stories and is as busy as always writing, producing, performing, and just plain fully immersing himself in life.


About David Holt: For more than 45 years the talented multi-instrumentalist has collected and performed the songs and stories of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He learned this treasure trove of music directly from musical greats including Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, and Etta Baker. From 1998-2012 David toured and performed with the legendary Doc Watson. Holt says “Doc was truly a great man. Performing and touring with him was a highlight of my career.” In 2002 Doc and David won two Grammys for their classic “Legacy ” a three-CD set about the inspiring life and music of Doc Watson. David currently tours the country performing solo with Josh Goforth. In 2016 David was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.


Last year was a busy year for David as season four of his acclaimed television show “David Holt’s State of Music” premiered nationally on PBS. Guests included this season include Taj Mahal, Della Mae, Jerry Douglas, and young performers Presley Barker, The Burnett Sisters, and Cane Mill Road. The show gives the viewer an in-depth look at the music and personalities of America’s great roots music artists. David is a four-time Grammy Award-winning musician, storyteller, and radio and television host. While David is best known for performing traditional material, he has written and recorded many original songs with artists like Doc Watson, Sam Bush, and Bryan Sutton. David has underscored and composed theme songs for numerous TV shows on PBS and TNN.


“We are extremely proud of the career successes achieved by many CASC alumni. Among these are Gillian Welch (1993), David Via (1997, 2001), Johnny Williams (1998, 1999), Tift Merritt (2000), Becky Buller (2001), Michael Reno Harrell (2003), Adrienne Young (2003), Martha Scanlan (2003), Sam Quinn (2006), and Jeanette Williams (2007),” said Stacee Whitley, coordinator of MerleFest’s CASC. “More recent alumni include Lara Lynn (2011) and Gary Alan Ferguson (2014). Other recent discoveries from the contest are Melody Walker of Front Country and Joseph Terrell of Mipso. I encourage all songwriters to put the final touches on your masterpiece and submit it to the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest!”


Net proceeds from the contest support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded over $45,500 to deserving students. For contest rules, ways to enter, and more details about the contest, visit


MerleFest is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C. Tickets for MerleFest 2020 are currently on sale with Tier 2 pricing beginning February 17, 2020, and Tier 3 pricing beginning April 23, 2020.


The lineup for MerleFest 2020 is as follows (with more to be announced in the coming weeks): Willie Nelson & Family, Alison Krauss, John Prine, Colin Hay, Billy Strings, The Jerry Douglas Band, Sam Bush, Jim Lauderdale, Kruger Brothers, The Waybacks, Scythian, Donna the Buffalo, Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce, Tommy Emmanuel, Shinyribs, Charley Crockett, Darrell Scott, The Steel Wheels, Kelsey Waldon, Gangstagrass, Robbie Fulks, Amythyst Kiah, Cordovas, Alison Brown, Andy May, “B” Townes, Banknotes, Bill and the Belles, Bryan Sutton, Carol Rifkin, Charles Welch, Chatham Rabbits, Che Apalache, The Cleverlys, Creole Stomp with Dennis Stroughmatt, David Holt, Fireside Collective, Flattop, Happy Traum, Hogslop String Band, InterACTive Theatre of Jef, Irish Mythen, Iron Horse Bluegrass, Jack Lawrence, Jeff Little Trio, Jody Carroll, Joe Smothers, Ken Crouse, Laura Boosinger, The Local Boys, Los Texmaniacs, Mark Bumgarner, Mary Flower, Mitch Greenhill, Pete & Joan Wernick, Piedmont Bluz, Presley Barker, Rev. Robert Jones, Roy Book Binder, Sierra Ferrell, String Madness, T. Michael Coleman, Tony Williamson, Wayne Henderson, The Moore Brothers, The Williams Brothers, and Wyld Fern.


About MerleFest: MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including old-time, classic country, bluegrass, folk and gospel, and blues, and expanded to include Americana, classic rock, and many other styles. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. MerleFest is the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects, and other educational needs.


About Window World®: Window World®, headquartered in North Wilkesboro, N.C., is America’s largest replacement window and exterior remodeling company, with more than 200 locally owned franchises nationwide. Founded in 1995, the company sells and installs windows, siding, doors and other exterior products, with over 17 million windows sold to date. Window World is an ENERGY STAR® partner and its windows, vinyl siding and Therma-Tru doors have all earned the Good Housekeeping Seal. In 2019, Window World was ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Window and Patio Door Retailers, 5 out of 7 Years” by J.D. Power. Through its charitable foundation, Window World Cares®, Window World and its franchisees provide funding for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®, which honored the company with its Organizational Support Award in 2017. Since its inception in 2008, the foundation has raised over $10.75 million for St. Jude. Window World also supports the Veterans Airlift Command, a nonprofit organization that facilitates free air transportation to wounded veterans and their families. As a member of that network, Window World’s corporate jet has provided transportation for over 115 missions, transporting 140 veterans and logging over 420 hours in the air. For more information, visit or call 1-800 NEXTWINDOW. For home improvement and energy efficiency tips, décor ideas and more, follow Window World on Facebook and Twitter.


Window World received the highest score among Retailers in the J.D. Power 2019 Window & Patio Door Satisfaction Study of customers’ satisfaction with their windows and/or patio doors purchase. Visit for more information.