The Clinch River of Virginia rises near the town of Tazewell and flows down through the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, coursing through the region that has become known as the heartbeat of rural America’s music. The Clinch River weaves through the community of “Old Castlewood” in the heart of Russell County where lifelong friends and neighbors Isaac Gibson and Chase Chafin grew up on Winchester Street. The two would go on to form the band 49 Winchester with their friend and now longtime lead guitarist Bus Shelton, christening the group after the address of Gibson’s childhood home in honor of the immeasurable influence the space had on their lives and the development of their musical brotherhood. The current lineup of 49 Winchester features Gibson (vocals, guitar), Chafin (bass), Shelton (lead guitar), Dillon Cridlin (drums), and Noah Patrick (steel guitar), and together they are distinctly and proudly Appalachian – carrying on and reinventing the musical traditions of their region with a sound that is wholly and distinctively their own.
Formed directly after Gibson and Chafin’s high school graduation in 2013, 49 Winchester has gone on to record two studio albums and play hundreds of live shows including festivals, theaters, breweries and dive bars all across the states of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky. The group travels around in a 1986 e150 van that is driven by Gibson’s father, Gary, who has been the band’s driver since day one – in between 49 Winchester’s hectic touring schedule, Gibson and his father work together as a father-son carpenter duo in Russell, County. The band has played stages at West Virginia’s Mountain Music Festival, Kentucky’s Red Barn Radio, and also played a main stage at last year’s Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival just a few miles south of where 49 Winchester was formed in Castlewood. They have shared stages with the likes of Charley Crockett, JP Harris, and Shooter Jennings – a lineup that they could easily feel at home and hold their own.
Growing up just north of Bristol, often considered the birthplace of country music, 49 Winchester self-proclaims that country and bluegrass music is part of their DNA, which is most certainly evident on their two studio albums of original material and in their rousing live performances that have made them a regional favorite. It’s important to note that even though country roots are prevalent in their sound, 49 Winchester is much more than a country music band – their sound serves as a melting pot of the various genres they have loved and explored growing up, such as ragtime, rock, metal, and especially soul. Gibson, the lead vocalist and primary songwriter for the group, possesses a voice that defies categorization – it’s country, blues, and soul all in one and it is intrinsically entwined with his unforgettable songwriting.
“My songwriting process is random and cluttered. They normally come three or four at a time – out of nowhere. It will normally start with an idea for a lyric and that lyric chases me around all day while I’m working. Then I will go home and write the song and the music and bring it to the guys for them to flesh out and put their own stylistic fingerprint on it. I think that’s part of what makes our sound so unique – the guys in the band are sort of detached from the writing process. It allows them to be able to decide what they think the song needs independently of me and play what they feel. That’s what 49 Winchester is and I think it’s the reason people say we have such a unique sound. It’s five guys with vastly different taste in everything from beer to clothes to music, who love each other and the music that comes out of those differences.” -Isaac Gibson
In 2014, 49 Winchester released their self-titled debut studio album featuring ten original songs written by Gibson. The album was recorded at Rich Tone Records in Bristol, Tennessee and was produced by Dan Fehr. The newly formed band approached their debut recording project with a DIY mentality as they evolved into their own over the course of the development of the record – those recording sessions were actually the very first time they had featured drums and bass on their songs. 49 Winchester’s debut album serves as a musical artifact showcasing the origins and the development of the band and their unique sound, exemplified on such songs as “So Long, I’m Gone”, “Blue Ribbon Blues”, and “Skin and Bone”. After three years of heavy touring and gigging, the band went into the studio to record their second studio album entitled “The Wind” that they released in 2018.
“The Wind” is a collection of original songs written by Gibson, and demonstrates the strong unification of the band as a single entity – as they had been on the road several years working up and playing the songs featured on the album. The band recorded the album at the Classic Recording Studio in Bristol, Virginia with Mike Stephenson and the songs were recorded in the exact same way that they had worked them up for their live shows. In my opinion, both records serve as major testaments to the immense talent that this band from Russell County, Virginia possesses and they would surely fit snug in between the likes of John R. Miller, Town Mountain, and Tyler Childers on the shelves of music fans.
49 Winchester has truly accomplished some great things over the past several years – and this is only the beginning. On February 12, 2020, the band released their newest collection of original songs in the form of a four-song EP entitled “Bigtone Sessions” which were recorded live at Bigtone Records in Bristol, Virginia. They are also set to play the upcoming Mountain Music Festival alongside The Wood Brothers and The Infamous Stringdusters, as well as the 20th Annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion among the likes of Jason Isbell, Tanya Tucker, Blackberry Smoke, and Yola. They are also set to co-headline the inaugural Here Comes The Sun Festival in Franklin, North Carolina alongside Morgan Wade and John R. Miller. 2020 is about to be a big year for 49 Winchester and I hope you are able to catch them somewhere along the way. Their albums are available wherever you stream your digital music.
All photographs by Olivia Jewell Photography