The small-town Virginia band poised to become Americana’s next big act
Any list of Southern cities with great music scenes—Athens, Durham, Nashville—doesn’t likely include Castlewood, Virginia. But the tiny town in southwest Virginia is home to one of the best up-and-coming bands in Americana and roots rock—49 Winchester.
The Southern Appalachian upstarts offer a fresh take on the comfortingly familiar, crafting a sound that mingles Chris Stapleton’s lived-in grit, Tyler Childers’ backwoods yearning and the vivid rural depictions of Drive-By Truckers.
But Isaac Gibson—leader and main songwriter of the six-piece band—has an authentic voice and plenty of his own stories to tell. He formed the band with friends he grew up with in the mountain town that has a population of just 2,045, and after releasing four albums, playing countless bar gigs and being together for nearly a decade, the group is finally achieving breakout success.
The notoriety has come from hard work. In “Fortune Favors the Bold,” the title track of the band’s latest album, Gibson sings: “I could sit here on my couch all day/ Wish my whole damn life away/Or I could get up off my ass and grab the bull by the horns.”
The group has done the latter. “Fortune,” which mingles rugged alt-country and Appalachian folk with engaging lyrics, came out last year on the venerable roots label New West Records, and last summer the band opened for Turnpike Troubadours at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
“We were rank amateurs when we started this band, and our whole musical lives have been contained with this band,” Gibson said in a statement. “And that gives us a unique perspective because it’s still the same guys. It’s still all of us from Castlewood traveling around, playing music and making this band a reality—this is a story of growth.”
That growth will continue as the band’s hard-touring ways persist this year. This spring the group will play two big shows at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tennessee, on March 31 and April 1. The band also has plenty of festival appearances on the horizon, with stops at the North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival in Huntersville, North Carolina, on May 12 and 13, Katie’s House Country Music Festival in Winchester, Virginia, on May 19 and Dominion Riverrock Festival on the banks of the James River in Richmond, on May 21.
Five Essential Songs
A true standout from the band’s latest album, “Fortune Favors the Bold,” “Annabel” is a breezy cruiser about stubborn lovers who can’t get past their own individual ways to get on the same page.
49 Winchester front man Isaac Gibson channels plenty of Chris Stapleton’s heartfelt grit in “Everlasting Lover,” a twangy, homesick ballad that leads off the country-rock band’s third album, “III.”
“Long Hard Life”
Another gem from “III,” this outlaw tale is delivered through a soulful country-funk romp that smokes on the live stage.
“Russell County Line”
This road warrior’s lament from “Fortune Favors the Bold” features some classic country storytelling as Gibson pines for a lover back home via front porch-style acoustic strumming.
The title track from the band’s 2018 album mixes Gibson’s personal reflections with a propulsive electric guitar attack that’s more punk than country.