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Central Texas band Midland criticized for altering photo of East Austin spot Sam’s BBQ

Peter Blackstock

Update, 9:30 a.m. July 23: Dripping Springs band Midland has issued a statement about an altered photograph of Sam’s BBQ in East Austin used for promotional purposes, including in a Washington Post article:

“We have reached out to Brian, the owner of Sam’s, and his family to apologize for the editing of their sign in a photo we used. We admire Brian and his family for everything they do and stand for. When we went to Sam’s during our photo shoot, we were honored to shoot at their iconic, locally Black-owned business that has been an Austin institution for over 60 years. We had a wonderful time with Brian and are thankful for the time he spent with us.

We regret the original photograph taken by our photographer was not the version provided to the Washington Post Magazine. On Monday we asked — and The Washington Post agreed — to switch to the actual image.

We support local businesses. We believe in families working together. We understand the importance of protecting and supporting minority entrepreneurship in our communities. As a band we have had six children born in Austin and we want nothing more than to see this city thrive and its culture protected.

To that end, we’re sending Brian the money he has requested and we’re also sending him another amount to make a charitable contribution to whomever he and the Sam’s family thinks will most benefit our community.”

Update, 9:45 a.m. July 21: The Washington Post’s website has changed the lead photograph on its Midland article to an unaltered shot that shows the Sam’s BBQ sign. The Post added the following text at the bottom of the article:

“Correction: Portrait photographs of Midland were distributed to The Washington Post Magazine by Big Machine Label Group for use with this article. An authentic version of the opening photograph at top replaces the original promotional image the Magazine received from Big Machine.”

Earlier: A photo used in a Washington Post Magazine article about Dripping Springs country band Midland has stirred some controversy online.

A promotional photograph used with the story, published online July 15, showed the trio outside historic Black-owned restaurant Sam’s BBQ in East Austin — but with the lettering on the Sam’s sign altered to reflect the name of a Midland song, “Playboys.” The band also posted the image to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The photo, credited to photographer Harper Smith, appears to have been part of shoots Midland did at multiple locations in Austin to promote the 2019 release of the group’s second album, “Let It Roll.” Other shots, including the album cover photo, were taken at Nau’s Enfield Drug, a longtime drugstore and eatery in the Clarksville neighborhood. The Post article also included two images from Nau’s, neither of which appeared to be altered.

Austin hip-hop band Riders Against the Storm took issue with the photograph in an Instagram post, writing: “Midland, you should be ashamed of yourself for this blatant white-washing and erasure of a Black Austin cultural institution. … This is the absolute personification of tone-deaf. But it’s also what we come to expect in a city that continues to ignore the historic impacts of its own systemic racism.”

Others on social media called Midland out in comments on the band’s posts for altering the sign.

The altered image had been used for promotional purposes well before the Post article was published. An audio track of “Playboys” that the band posted to its official YouTube page in July 2019 features a different crop of the image, with the same alteration of the sign. (Update: That video was removed from the band’s YouTube page later in the day on Monday.)

Reached by phone on Monday, Sam’s owner Brian Mays said he had not seen the Washington Post article yet. He said he had not received a location fee for the use of his storefront in the photograph.

“I need to talk to them about getting paid,” Mays said.

Midland singer Mark Wystrach claimed otherwise in a comment on his Instagram post about the Washington Post article. Responding to Austin musician Erica Michelle’s question about the photo, Wystrich wrote, “Yup, paid Sam’s a shoot fee and bought some of their incredible bbq. Shot there a few times over the years. Couldn’t be better people or bbq.”

Another promotional photo of Midland released last fall also shows the band outside of Sam’s, but with the sign unaltered.

A request from the American-Statesman to Midland’s publicist for a statement from the band was not immediately answered.

The restaurant is one of few remaining Black-owned business in the historically Black part of town. Founded by Sam Campbell in the 1950s, Sam’s BBQ (2000 E. 12th St.) was purchased by the Mays family in 1976. Last year, Mays turned down a $5 million offer from a developer who wanted to build condos on the site.

“I represent the Black folk,” Mays told the Statesman last year. “When I leave, everything’s gone. Ain’t no more Black history.”

» PHOTOS:Sam’s BBQ owner holds on, despite offers

Midland — singer Mark Wystrach, bassist Cameron Duddy and guitarist Jess Carson — received a Grammy nomination in 2017 for the song “Drinkin’ Problem” from their debut album “On the Rocks.” The group records for Nashville major label Big Machine.

READ MORE:Our 2019 interview with Midland

Staff visual journalist Bronte Wittpenn contributed to this report.