49 Winchester by Joshua Black Wilkins
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Home Sweet Home: 49 Winchester

By Matt Wickstrom

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Proud residents of Castlewood, Virginia, country-soul collective 49 Winchester balance their love for home and life on the road throughout their new album, Fortune Favors The Bold. Isaac Gibson (guitar/vocals), Chase Chafin (bass), Bus Shelton (lead guitar) and Noah Patrick (pedal steel) all grew up together as close friends in the small Appalachian town, even living together for a time at 49 Winchester Street, the eventual inspiration for the band’s name.

The group have always been open about their love for the outdoors and rural life in their music, but ‘Russell County Line’, one of the singles from their forthcoming album, touches on this element more directly than ever before. The slowed-down ballad explores how, despite Gibson’s love for music and touring, he’s always longing to return home to his loved ones in Russell County. He poetically describes this feeling in the song’s chorus, singing:

“And if you wonder where my heart is when I’m out on the road
It’s right at home, I left it honey just for you to hold

And if you wonder how I’m doing, know that I am doing fine
But I wish I was in Virginia on the Russell County line”

According to Gibson, the song has netted the group immense praise from those back home in the quaint mountain town. They are thrilled to see some of their own not only finding success, but not forgetting where they came from along the way.

“It’s been a lot of fun to see how people in the town and nearby region have embraced the song,” says Gibson. “We’ve got people messaging us online about how much they love it and even stopping us in town at the grocery store to talk about how much the song means to them. We’re very blessed in Appalachia to have loads of musical talent in the region, it’s helped to give opportunities to ourselves and other artists in the area”.

“Artists like Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson have opened up a lot of doors for people like us” Gibson continues. “I’m the kind of guy that always wants to root for the home team, and most others around here feel the same way. Us mountain people are a resilient bunch with a great sense of community. We always want to see one another thrive and be successful”.

Calling in from a quick stint back home before heading back out on tour, Gibson picked out a handful of his favorite spots in Castlewood, Russell County and Southwest Virginia that he swears by, in our latest edition of Home Sweet Home.

Where’s the first place you go whenever you return home?

After I drop all of my stuff off at home and unpack my suitcase, the first thing I usually do - depending on the time of year - is get out to the woods for some turkey hunting or fishing. My first love before I discovered music was exploring the outdoors. I’ve been doing both ever since I was old enough to hold a rod, reel, rifle or bow. No matter how hectic and busy things get with our music, I’ll always keep those two activities a part of my life.

Whenever I do get out to hunt or fish, it’s typically with my dad and uncles at a spot a couple hours south of Castlewood, on the French Broad River. However, closer to home - literally in my backyard - is the Clinch River, where we filmed a bunch of footage for our ‘Russell County Line’ music video.

We’ve been thinking about throwing a little hometown shindig on the river there sometime in the future. The Clinch River always has and always will be a part of my heart and soul. I lived so close to it when growing up; I could throw rocks into it from my bedroom window at our house on Winchester Street. That river has had an enormous impact on me.

What’s the first bar or venue in town that 49 Winchester ever played as a band?

The first place that we were able to repeatedly play locally that wasn’t a one-off festival was a little restaurant called Ma & Pa’s. It’s an itty-bitty diner that was our first stronghold in the music scene there. It had a tiny stage and a handful of chairs, but we’d always pack the place so much that people would be spilling out the front door and leaning against the guardrails listening to us.

That place was huge in helping us grow into the band that we are today.

Aside from that, there aren't many venues near town, unless you drive an hour south to Bristol or Johnson City. There wasn’t really much of a music scene in Castlewood until we began carving one out for ourselves.

Eventually, Ma & Pa’s got bought out and is now a Mexican restaurant called El Primo, but they kept the entire Ma & Pa’s menu. You can get everything from enchiladas to a hot dog there now.

Is El Primo your favorite spot in town to grab a bite to eat, or do you have another place that’s your go-to spot?

“There’s actually another Mexican food spot in town that I love called El Palenque. I tell people all the time that they have the best Mexican food on the planet. I’ll always vouch for that. If anyone is reading this and going through Castlewood, you need to stop at El Palenque. It’s badass!

Fat Boy’s BBQ in Saint Paul—the next town over—is great too. They also have a little pizza parlor called Giovanni’s; I’ve been going there for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t changed a bit over the years either. Every time you step inside, it feels like walking back into 1982, due to the aged wood paneling on the walls. They also just recently began accepting debit card payments, officially thrusting them into the 21st century.

What’s your favorite watering hole in town?

Russell County is a dry area, so alcohol isn’t permitted in most places, but we’re slowly coming around. The spot to get a drink currently is the two Mexican restaurants.

However, if you’re wanting a mixed drink, you’ll likely have to leave town. But, if you want a cold beer and a good meal, then we have you covered in Castlewood.

Most of y’all in the band have been friends long before 49 Winchester was even a thing. What did you use to do back in the day when you’d hang out?

We would always hang out at the park in Saint Paul, late at night we’d make a big fire next to the picnic shelter. We’d sit around playing guitars and doing other things that we probably shouldn’t have been doing in a public park.

We would often get together at Ma & Pa’s on summer nights as well to shoot basketball, jam and hang out. We couldn’t play music at our parent’s houses because they didn’t want to hear us playing at 2 a.m., so we’d try to meet up wherever and whenever it was possible.

Buzzard Rock, VA

Buzzard Rock, VA

If you were talking to someone planning a trip to Castlewood for the first time, what’s the first place that you’d tell them to visit once they got there?

The best thing about Appalachia is the scenic beauty, and there’s no better place to take that in then off of Buzzard Rock up at Hidden Valley Lake. You can see almost the entire county from there and it’s only a short hike up to it.

Flag Rock in Norton, VA, and a float down the river from Castlewood to Saint Paul are good bets too. Bristol is also just a short drive down the road, where there’s the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol Motor Speedway and a bunch of other cool stuff.

What do you enjoy most about life in small town Appalachia?

Things here are slow and more deliberate. That’s one reason I love returning there after a long tour - to reset. Generally, when I’m not on the road, I’m a homebody. Whenever I do go out, it’s often just for solitary activities like hunting and fishing.

I love being isolated in the mountains and close to the activities that I enjoy. You won’t find anywhere with more natural beauty either. Springtime in the mountains is a sight to behold.

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49 Winchester’s new album ‘Fortune Favors The Bold’ is out on May 13 via New West Records. You can read Holler's 8 out of 10 review of the record here.

You can purchase the album from one of Holler's selected partners below:

Holler Country Music

New West Records | 2022

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