49 Winchester by Jerry Friend

Castlewood’s 49 Winchester band will take the stage on July 19 at the Border Bash in downtown Bristol.

Castlewood’s 49 Winchester fit like an old pair of cowboy boots.

They’re rock, and they’re country, laid back and not; they dress up well when needed and kick when called upon.

Sidle up to 49 Winchester and opener Jake Quillin. Presented by Believe in Bristol, see them during Border Bash on July 19 at the Downtown Center in Bristol, Tennessee.

“Honestly,” said Chase Chafin, co-founder of 49 Winchester, “it’s really awesome to play Border Bash. Right on State Street. We did it in 2017, did it with Indighost.”

Years past installments of Border Bash witnessed legions of local as well as national acts. Participants included neo-soul’s St. Paul and the Broken Bones and vintage-loving songster Pokey LaFarge.

“It’s a big deal,” Chafin, 23, said. “Being from Southwest Virginia, Bristol is our biggest hub. We’ve been going to Rhythm & Roots since we were 14.”

Chafin and early childhood friend Isaac Gibson established 49 Winchester in 2013. No big thing. Two buddies bonded on hometown and music, it worked then as a duo unplugged and now as a group plugged in.

“We grew up on Winchester Street in old Castlewood, Virginia,” Chafin said. “We could throw a rock to the Clinch River from my house. We have a love of folk music, American music. We’d learn these old songs by Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, learn them on whatever we had when we were 12 or 13.”

Months after graduating from high school, 49 Winchester played its first show in October of 2013. Things were different back then for the fledgling band when they stepped onstage in St. Paul, Virginia.

“We didn’t have a name for the band when we booked our first show,” Chafin, the band’s bass guitarist, said. “We were just going to back up Isaac with a banjo and guitar.”

Wind grabbed their sails early on. Word spread like hot-eared gossip about the whippersnappers such that their second show, performed at Ma & Pa’s in Castlewood, played to a packed crowd.

“We thought, maybe we really can do this,” Chafin said.

Triggered by Gibson’s oft-introspective lyrics, 49 Winchester could stand firm as a thinking man’s band. Appalachian wisdom spun in a web of youth and vigor, wonders and questions propel their latest album, “The Wind.”

“I like Isaac’s delivery and honesty,” Chafin said. “He’s always evolving, taking it to another level. They’re rooted in personal experiences.”

Soak up a passion-drenched “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Tap an Old Gringo to the guitars-bathed “Sunday Afternoon.” Catch the breeze from their album’s title track, “The Wind.”

They’re Appalachian rockers, these 49 Winchester fellows, though intellect well intact.

“There’s an element of mystery about that one, ‘The Wind,’” Chafin said. “It talks about the fear, the haunted. Isaac writes all the songs. They definitely show that he’s from Appalachia, from a small town. There’s a wide realm of thought. Isaac’s a poet.”

To the road, 49 Winchester spread its map to encompass chunks of the East Coast in recent years. Yeah, there’s backyard shows, big shows, as with Border Bash in Bristol.

“This past weekend we played in Richmond,” Chafin said. “We’ve played Nashville, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Charlotte. Wherever we go, we bring the spirit of Appalachia and Castlewood with us.”

Nationwide, expanses of music fans know Appalachia for its bluegrass and country music. Gospel, too. As testified by 49 Winchester, that’s not all that surfaces from the region. They’re not Ralph Stanley. Don’t want to be, either.

But they are 49 Winchester, Appalachian birthrights and brothers in song.

“Freedom,” Chafin said. “The songs, the brotherhood, it’s everything. We’re like family. We’ve been through the worst of times and the best of times, and it keeps us going.”

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Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at features@bristolnews.com.

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