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The Pandemic Kept Midland Together and Might've Helped The Beatles, Too

Cameron Duddy, Mark Wystrach and Jess Carson of Midland at the 2019 CMT Music Awards.EXPAND
Cameron Duddy, Mark Wystrach and Jess Carson of Midland at the 2019 CMT Music Awards.
Mike Coppola/Getty
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As we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Texas country trio Midland is grabbing life by the horns and making a return to the stage with three concerts at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth on April 8, 9 and 10.

These shows mark some of the earliest returns to normalcy and revelry for Texans, unseen since before the pandemic. Billy Bob’s will follow social distancing measures for Midland’s three concerts. And if you’re not ready to venture back out into the world, all three shows will be livestreamed on nocapshows.com.

“We had planned for this round of shows before Texas officially reopened,” Midland bassist Cameron Duddy says. “We were going to be putting on these shows in a responsible manner at a reduced capacity, and when Texas did reopen, Midland and the promoters decided in the best interest of the public to continue the reduced capacity approach.”

Despite fighting off allergies from the onslaught of spring pollen, Duddy is in a good mood as he speaks via Zoom from his home in Dripping Springs. It makes sense given his place in life; he’s married with two children, and he’s in a massively successful beloved country trio.

The band's seemingly unstoppable momentum was nearly halted on a Friday the 13th in March last year. The last gig Midland played before the quarantine was the Houston Rodeo's opening night in front of a fully packed NRG Stadium.

During the pandemic, the group combed through the archives and came upon a treasure trove of demos and footage from the band’s inception at a secluded studio outside of El Paso, resulting in a documentary and companion album both titled The Sonic Ranch, named after the studio. The documentary is a fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at the process of reconciling the members’ three distinct (and often clashing) personalities with their undeniable chemistry.

Duddy says the sudden halt may have been a blessing in disguise, as the look back helped the band reconnect with each other.

“We weren’t on the verge of breaking up, but we were on the verge of cracking up," he says. "We had been on the road for two years straight and had made our second album in transit. There was no reprieve at all. We’re masochistic in our ability to continue staying on the road, and that comes from years of not having any opportunities.

"We were getting to the point of not knowing how we were even going to write the third album, and when COVID happened, we were able to sit around, collect our thoughts, and look back through the documentary. Sometimes I think that had The Beatles — or any band for that matter — forced themselves to look back on their early days, that might have kept them together. But not every band is thankful to have a camera rolling at the beginning.”

The rolling of the camera was a part of Duddy’s pre-Midland life as a music video director, sculpting visuals for modern classics such as Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” and Awolnation’s “Sail.” As depicted in The Sonic Ranch, Duddy was initially tapped to document Jess Carson and Mark Wystrach’s burgeoning music project. One thing led to another, and soon enough, Duddy joined them. And then there were three. Midland was born.

Seven years and a global pandemic later, the trio has warmed up their guitars and boots with a series of socially distanced concerts in various minor league baseball stadiums around Texas, with successful shows in Amarillo, Round Rock and (of course) Midland, among others.

“You know, if you squint your eyes enough, it feels like you’re filling a whole baseball stadium," Duddy says. "It feels as good as any show before all this craziness happened. We’re elated to be playing music again because it was gone for a year.”

The concerts at Billy Bob’s are an opportunity for the public to get reacquainted with Midland and get to know their extended musical family in the form of their two opening acts: roots rock collective The Texas Gentlemen on April 8, and the Gent's fellow local Jonathan Tyler on April 9, and 10 (at 9 p.m.).

Tyler’s been a part of the North Texas music scene for over a decade, having initially achieved success as part of the rock-oriented Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights. He has since folded varying shades of folk, blues, country and psychedelic sounds into his musical stew. Tyler’s last full-length album, Holy Smokes, was released in 2015 to great acclaim. He spent most of 2020 finishing his follow-up album and so far has released four singles from it: the personal emancipation anthem “Underground Forever,” the irresistibly squirming blues-funk gem “Hustlin,” the hard-charging “Mister Resistor” and the gentle and nostalgic “Old Friend.”

“Jonathan Tyler has been in my peripheral for the last six or seven years,” Duddy says. “We finally met a few years ago, and it was kismet. We are definitely kindred spirits. I like to joke that he’s my twin, but he’s the one who got all the nutrients in the womb. He’s such a brilliant musician and sweet person. As soon as we met, I knew that I had to collaborate with him.”

Tyler and Duddy went on to co-produce Pollen, the latest EP from up-and-coming alt-country singer Desure, who was previously Midland’s tour manager.

Duddy says that now that the dust is settling, Midland is in full writing and recording mode and has a busy 2021 planned.

“We are going to be releasing an EP in a few months, and hopefully we’ll fill that out with a full album by the end of the year," he says. "We’re really excited to be putting out new music. At the beginning of this whole thing, we had no idea if we were even going to be able to come back and play live again. We’re just grateful.”

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