49 Winchester. Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins

Stagecoach often features acts that like to expand upon the definition of “country”—and one such band on this year’s lineup is 49 Winchester.

With infusions of soul, hard rock and folk, the band often shows a softer, more emotional and more blistering side of the genre. Check out tracks like “Russell County Line” and “Damn Darlin’” for a taste of somber, soulful acoustic country that can soothe as much as it screams.

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Catch 49 Winchester at Stagecoach on Sunday, April 30.

“We’ve loved the lineup of the festival for years, and I’ve seen a lot of people that we saw ourselves following in the footsteps of play that fest, so it was cool when we finally got the announcement,” said lead singer/guitarist Isaac Gibson. “It’s on the Mount Rushmore of country-music festivals. It’s the anchor of our first real, legitimate, full West Coast tour. … It’ll be our first true taste of the West Coast, and, man, we’re looking super-forward to it.”

Gibson discussed the expansive nature of the country genre.

“If you look at this year’s Stagecoach lineup, there’s evidence that country has sort of broadened and opened up over the years,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things that are more than just country on the surface that are still really country music—because it’s country songs and country lyrics. … Even us, we draw inspiration from a lot of different areas. There’s a lot of our music that’s kind of rock ’n’ roll, and kind of soul, and kind of a lot of different stuff. I think that the integrity of it, and what really makes it country, is the lyrics, and the emotion, and the things that it provides in that way.”

The band continues to get billed as a country band even though 49 Winchester’s music isn’t made with a certain sound in mind.

“We were never a band that really set out to say, ‘Hey, we want to be a country band,’ or, ‘Hey, we want to be a rock ’n’ roll band,’” Gibson said. “We play the music that resonates with us, and I think that the country scene is the one that’s latched on to it the most. … We want to make music that’s different and that’s derived from all the inspiration and all the music that we love. We love stuff all over the board, and I think our music shows that.”

49 Winchester recently had the opportunity to take their songs overseas, when the band played in London as part of the C2C Country to Country music festival.

“That was another big first,” Gibson said. “We didn’t know exactly what to expect when we went over there. It was our first time ever on a totally different continent. We didn’t know what the crowds were going to be like or anything, and the first set was just a killer set. It was in this venue at C2C called the Barrelhouse, a big outdoor tent, and it was just shoulder-totshoulder lined up with people. I saw some faces who knew our songs, and people who had some merch on. It was cool to get out there and see that our music is spread that far.”

Appreciation for the band has grown since 49 Winchester started its journey in 2014 with a self-titled LP.

“I think we’re doing something that’s kind of a little bit bold and a little bit daring,” Gibson said. “I don’t know if I should gas ourself up that much over it, but we’re definitely sticking to our guns, and I think that there’s a certain type of fan who really admires that. It’s the type of fan we want, and we’re really proud to have garnered over the years.”

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One of the most interesting aspects of the band is that it comes from a small town in Appalachia, with a population of a little more than 2,000.

“I know that people from our area are not used to seeing young people go into this line of work,” Gibson said. “In my part of the world, you’re usually either working in the coal mines, or working on the railroad to haul said coal out of the mines, or something to do with that industry. That’s about the only major industry that there is here. That’s what people do for work, and nobody ever told me, ‘You can go be a country music star’ … until they realized, ‘OK, man, these guys are doing something cool; they’re sticking with it; and they’re continuing to push it and pursue it.’ It definitely came with its disadvantages, trying to get a music career lifted off the ground in central Appalachia, but I think it’s another thing that just sort of set us apart a little bit, and drew some eyes to us that were the right kinds of eyes.”

The band had to nurture its sound in neighboring cities.

“Our first kind of home base was around the Tri Cities, Bristol and Johnson City, Tenn.,” Gibson said. “That was the first place outside of our immediate little area in Virginia that anybody really ever heard us, because it was the only place around, but it had a population big enough to have bars and music venues and things like that. That was where we cut our teeth, and then, really, it just sort of all branched out from there. I think this last year, we really started to notice our fan base growing even outside of places we’ve toured in for years. It was a whole lot of slow, organic growth. We just toured our ass off and played all over the country, and we made fans 100 at a time for years.”

Gibson said the band has benefitted from performing without expectations.

“Our whole thing is we just keep our nose to the grindstone,” he said. “We keep working on it, because we know that we love it, and all the good stuff that’s happened is just the cherry on top. We’ve never looked at it as patience; we’ve just looked at it as we’re doing the thing that fulfills us. It makes us feel good, and we have to continue doing it.”

In 2023, ahead of another huge stage for the band, the music and the camaraderie are keeping the members of 49 Winchester as engaged as ever.

“I think the more that we improve and the more we grow, and the more new things, new faces and new places that we get to see, the hungrier we become for it,” Gibson said. “I feel like that’s a pretty rare thing, because (music) is the one thing in my life that I haven’t gotten burned out on. I’ve had a million things that have interested me, or that I’ve loved throughout my life, and this is the one that seems like it’s really stuck around.”

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...