Asheville singer-songwriters Anya Hinkle, left, and Alexa Rose each won first place in their respective categories of the prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at the Merlefest music festival in Wilkesboro this past weekend. Hinkle won first place in the bluegrass category for her song “Ballad of Zona Abston,” while Rose won first place in the general category for her song, “Medicine for Living.” /photo by Martin Anderson

Asheville musicians Anya Hinkle and Alexa Rose won top honors in their respective categories of the prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at this past weekend’s Merlefest 2019 music festival in Wilkesboro.

Hinkle won first place in the bluegrass category for her song, “Ballad of Zona Abston.” The song is about the hardscrabble life of Zona Abston, a woman Hinkle met in Tennessee through her friend “Hippie” Jack Stoddart, a photographer, videographer and music promoter through his festival Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s. The song first appeared last year on Woven Waters, a record by Tellico. The song on the record features features Hinkle on guitar and vocals, Greg “Stig” Stiglets on bass, Aaron Ballance on dobro, Jed Willis on mandolin and John Doyle on bouzouki.

Rose won first place in the general category for “Medicine for Living,” a song of her forthcoming new album of the same name on the Big Legal Mess record label. The 25-year-old’s songs feature her distinctive phrasing and are firmly planted in the folk tradition. Her album “Low and Lonesome” from a couple of years ago was a beautiful collection of tunes and followed up her 2013 debut, “North.”

This year’s judges included: Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, better known as The Milk Carton Kids, Cruz Contreras of The Black Lillies, and Texas-troubadour Radney Foster. Jim Lauderdale hosted the competition and Mark Bumgarner returned as emcee for the finalist contest.

Congrats to the MerleFest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest winners! Here’s the full list of winners:

Gospel – 1st Place – Russ Parrish (Burnsville, Minn.), Topher King (Savage, Minn.) – “Washed By The Water”
Bluegrass – 1st Place- Anya Hinkle (Asheville, N.C.) – “Ballad of Zona Abston”
General – 1st Place- Alexa Rose (Asheville, N.C.) – “Medicine for Living”
Country – 1st Place- Andrew Millsaps (Ararat, N.C.) – “Ain’t No Genie (In a Bottle of Jack)

And here’s some of what the first-place winners actually won: a winning song performance on the Cabin Stage at MerleFest on Friday night; a 20-35-minute set on the Cabin Stage on Saturday; $600 cash; two boxes of D’Addario strings; Shubb capos; a recording session at Saloon Studios Live; songs broadcast on WNCW.

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