To some it was much ado about nothing. But to many in Austin, TX, the Midland trio conducted a grave offense when a photo featuring the band ended up in a recent Washington Post feature with the sign of the legendary Sam’s BBQ in east Austin changed to the name of one of their songs, “Playboys.”
The Washington Post feature was first published on Wednesday, July 15th, and also appeared in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post Magazine. The photo was taken by Harper Smith, who is the wife of Midland bass player Cameron Duddy. According to The Washington Post who offered a correction and changed the photo on July 21st, it was supplied by the band’s label, Big Machine Records.
Sam’s BBQ is an iconic, locally and black-owned business integral to the east Austin community. First established in 1957, the owners were offered $5 million in 2018 to sell the property to condominium developers, but refused if nearby residents promised to continue to support the business. For many, Sam’s BBQ is a symbol of resistance to the rabid gentrification overtaking the area. That’s why the changing of the sign was seen as so offensive, with many taking to social media to criticize the doctored image, and outlets like Texas Monthly, Austin360, and others posting stories about the issue.
Now Midland has addressed the altered photo in a statement, and has also paid the restaurant owner, Brian Mays, for using the photo, as well giving him a donation that he can use for whatever charity he chooses.
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.
The statement from Midland corroborates what The Washington Post said in their correction, which is that the photo was not provided by the band, but by Big Machine Records. By stating, “…the original photograph taken by our photographer was not the version provided to the ‘Washington Post Magazine,'” it appears that it was someone at Big Machine Records who chose to photoshop “Playboys” over “Sam’s BBQ.”
“I didn’t give them permission to do what they did,” Sam’s BBQ owner Brian Mays told Saving Country Music. “They changed the sign on the computer. They had no business doing that. They didn’t play, they never paid me to do nothing, they just wanted to take pictures. It would have been alright, but they changed the sign, and I know they’re making money with it.”
Big Machine Records has not addressed the matter.