Shay Martin Lovette and band at MerleFest

Shay Martin Lovette (lead singer, acoustic guitar and harmonica) and his band perform songs from his latest album, ‘Swift Drifter,’ during 2019’s MerleFest. Performing in the band with Lovette are Locke Griffith (electric guitar), Ashley Wright (tambourine and harmony vocals), Brandon Holder (electric bass), Ryan Lassiter (drums) and R. Scott Murray (pedal steel guitar). Lovette, from Boone, won first place in the 2021 General Category for the song ‘For Rose Marie,’ in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

WILKESBORO — MerleFest has officially come to a close, but not without a number of unforgettable collaborations, spontaneous sit-ins and world-class performances at the much anticipated return of the North Carolina festival.

Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgill Simpson and Mavis Staples all brought extra MerleFest energy to the Watson Stage over the course of the weekend. MerleFest, held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, is the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, which funds scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

“Once again I want to thank all of our MerleFest family — artists, volunteers, staff and fans — for their patience and support as we worked together to put on a safe and enjoyable festival that spotlighted the very best in roots-plus music,” said Festival Director Ted Hagaman. “We’ve had a wonderful weekend and we look forward to seeing everyone’s smiling faces again in seven short months when MerleFest returns to its usual April weekend in 2022.”

One of the many highlights of the festival included Friday night’s, Sept. 17, announcement of MerleFest’s 2020 and 2021 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, which featured Boone resident Shay Martin Lovette winning first place in the 2021 General Category for their song “For Rose Marie.”

This year also saw an emotional farewell to the long-running contest itself following nearly 30 years as a festival staple. During the event, long-time contest coordinator and host, Jim Lauderdale, was honored Saturday for his more than 20 years of shared expertise, enthusiasm, and engagement.

Below is a list of 2020’s and 2021’s songwriting contest winners:

2020 MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

First Place Winners


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


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


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


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

2021 MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

First Place Winners


Daniel Davis (Bristol, Va.) – “Dear Lord”


Ian Meadows (Higganum, Conn.), Dustin Meadows (Old Saybrook, Conn.) – “Trouble”


Andrew Small (Floyd, Va.) – “Yesterday’s Blues”


Shay Martin Lovette (Boone, N.C.) – “For Rose Marie”

MerleFest will return to its usual spring weekend in 2022, April 28 to May 1.

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