Dyle Russell/Mike Pope
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Dyle Russell/Mike Pope

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Three North Carolina songwriters were selected from 1,088 entrants to compete in the finals of today's Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, which will start at 2:30 p.m. at the Austin Stage at MerleFest.

Dyle Russell of Winston-Salem is a finalist in the country category for his song "Operation: Get Back Home." The gospel category finalists include Laura Kaufman of Boone, for her song "Now," and Wesley Koontz of Lexington, for his song, "It's Like Rain." The winner in each category will perform on one of the main stages tonight, and will also get a guitar and a check for $300. And behind each songwriter is a story:

Dyle Russell

Dyle Russell's song "Operation: Get Back Home" is so precious to him he almost didn't send it in to the contest for fear of rejection.

In his mind's eye, Russell could see the soldiers fighting in Iraq who have photographs of loved ones in their pockets. He could hear them saying goodbye and promising to come back home. The song starts like this:

I have more than a few memories,

That I could live without.

And there just might be some things,

That I'll never talk about.

But I know when I've done all I can do,

Where I hope this soldier's headed to,

Operation: Get Back Home…

He wrote the song a few months after the war started in Iraq.

"When people hear we've got 120,000 troops or 150,000 troops, sometimes people forget that troops is another word for a person or people, and that's a lot of people," Russell said. "You know they're all brave and all good at what they do, but you know they want to get it done the best they can and get back home." Russell said he tried hard to avoid politics. The song doesn't mention Iraq.

His best friend, Mike Pope, will accompany him on guitar today. Pope is a member of Risky Bizzness, the band that Russell left recently so he could spend more time with his wife, Michele, and their 2-year-old daughter, Dylen.

Russell, 37, of Winston-Salem, teaches art at Falls Creek School in Yadkin County and at Yadkinville Elementary School. He said he loves his job because the children run to his class and don't want to leave. "That makes you feel like you're the Pied Piper," he said.

He's written more than 150 songs since he was 18 and has played in various bands.

Russell says that he is already the happiest man in the world, but he sees today's contest as a way for people to hear a song that expresses his heart.

"For that particular song, you can't ask for nothing sweeter," he said.
- Winston-Salem Journal

Wilkesboro (North Carolina), USA - Wilkes Community College will produce MerleFest 2007, Presented by Lowe's, on April 26 – 29 on its campus in Wilkesboro, NC. Friday afternoon, April 27, from 2:00 until 3:30 brings the finals of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest on the Austin Stage at Merlefest. A panel of Nashville music industry professionals, assembled by Chris Austin Songwriting Contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale, evaluated 1088 submitted songs to pick the dozen finalist songs, three in each of the four categories. Their composers will perform them in the finals.

First Round Judges for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest 2007 were: Nathan Nicholson - publisher, NTN Music Management; Jeannie Winn – independent publisher, Possum Trax Music; Sarah Johnson - Creative Director, Windswept Music Publishing; Bil Vorndick, publisher and record producer; David Macias, artist manager, Thirty Tigers Entertainment Group; Chris Jones, songwriter, performer, and Sirius Satellite Radio host; Ed Peterson, artist and producer; and Brian Sprouse - Creative Director, Bluewater Music. They selected the following songs as finalists from 1,088 entries received on tape, CD, or thru www.SonicBids.com:

General Category Finalists: "Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for your Eyes" by Kristin Andreasson, Watertown, MA; "Am I Still" by John & Michelle Law and Regie Hamm, Seeley's Bay, ON, Canada; "My Brother Paul and Me" by Ronnie King, Ravenna, KY.

Country Category Finalists: "Operation: Get Back Home" by Dyle Russell, Winston-Salem, NC; "The Roadkill Bill" by Brant Miller, Dave Woodward, and Don King, Nashville, TN; "Crawl into the Bottle" by John Milne, Villa Park, IL.

Bluegrass Category Finalists: "Enough of You" by Jeanette Williams, Danville, VA; "The Devil's Road" by Mark Brinkman, Pickerington, OH; "Midnight Blues" by George & Jo Ellen Doering, Los Angeles, CA.

Gospel Category Finalists: "Blessed be that Day" by Korby Lenker, Seattle, WA; "Now" by Laura Kaufman, Boone, NC; "It's Like Rain" by Wesley Koontz, Lexington, NC.

James Nash, Sarah Hawker, Pat Flynn, and Holly Lowman are scheduled to judge the finals. Each first place winner earns an appearance on the Cabin Stage Friday evening, an Epiphone® Guitar from Gibson®, a check for $300, and two boxes of D'Addario strings.

Second place winners receive a check for $250 and one box of D'Addario strings. Third place winners receive one box of D'Addario strings and a check for $50. Each second and third place winner also earns a slot on the Songwriters' Coffeehouse Friday night.

Each finalist also receives admission for three to MerleFest with motel accommodations, sponsored by Fishman Transducers, and one-year subscription to Acoustic Guitar magazines. Thomas Fisher, First Vice-President at Morgan Keegan, Durham, NC sponsored the cash prizes. Additional sponsorship provided by SonicBids, the exclusive on-line entry point for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. ASCAP and No Depression magazine sponsor The Chris Austin Stage.

MerleFest 2007, Presented by Lowe's, has recently added Laurie Lewis, Sierra Hull & Highway 111, the Circuit Riders, and Buffalo Barfield to its talent lineup.

Festival coordinators previously announced an extraordinary talent roster for MerleFest 2007, presented by Lowe's, the 20th annual festival in celebration of the music of the late Merle Watson and his father Doc Watson produced by Wilkes Community College on April 26 – 29, 2007 on its campus in Wilkesboro, NC. Among those previously announced as joining Doc Watson and Merle's son Richard Watson for MerleFest 2007 are Blue Highway; Sam Bush; Carolina Chocolate Drops; Cherryholmes; Elvis Costello; John Cowan Band; Donna The Buffalo; Jerry Douglas; The Duhks; Béla Fleck; Paul Geremia; John Hammond; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; Del McCoury Band; Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet; Darrell Scott; the Legendary Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends; Pam Tillis; The Waybacks; and many others. MerleFest 2007 will also offer a very special performance by Tony Rice and Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas: An evening of material from Tony's 35 year career on Saturday. Wilkes Community College has presented MerleFest since 1988.

- Wilkes Journal Patriot


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