Mark Wystrach was deep into a stretch of 12-hour days in the studio a couple years ago when he had a vision.
He was back home in Sonoita, at the racetrack. They had set up a stage in the middle of the arena and the stands were filled to see him and his breakout neo-trad country western band Midland.
“It’s like the summertime and there’s some thunderstorms down south ... but it’s a perfect summer night,” recalled Wystrach, 38, who grew up on a ranch and in his parents’ popular The Steak Out Restaurant in Sonoita. “And I just saw this vision of thousands of people, all the people from Sonoita and Tucson, everybody I grew up with. I remember that sensation, that vision of putting on the greatest show of our lives.
“That’s kind of what this feels like four years later, this homecoming show at the Rialto,” he said of the band’s soldout show at the Tucson club on Thursday, April 26. “It kind of feels like that vision is going to come true.”
It’s actually the band’s second Rialto show. A couple of years ago, before they released their critically acclaimed Big Machine Records debut album, “On the Rocks,” last fall, they played for 400 or 500 people.
Those two years feel like a lifetime ago.
Last summer, their debut single, “Drinkin’ Problem,” topped the charts and racked up more than a million sales. Early this year, with the album just months old, the band landed a pair of Grammy nominations, and earlier this month they won an Academy of Country Music Award for best new vocal duo or group.
Not bad for a trio of guys — Wystrach on lead vocals, Cameron Duddy on bass and Jess Carson on lead guitar — who got together over a conversation about music that turned into an experiment and evolved into a career move that Wystrach admits he wouldn’t advise for anyone.
“We weren’t 22 anymore. We were in our early 30s. That’s not what most people do, decide to make a change and go all in on music in their early 30s,” he said during a phone call Wednesday. “I mean, if I was giving advice, 10 times out of 10 I wouldn’t give that advice.”
The trio had crossed musical paths in the past. Duddy and Wystrach were in a band called Young Whiskey a decade ago in California, where Wystrach was a soap opera actor and underwear model and Duddy was carving out a career as a music-video director. Years later, Duddy would work on the video for Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.”
Four years ago, when they got together on the eve of Duddy’s wedding, none of them were in music. Until that conversation.
“We were obsessed with blues and soul and country and Western and blugrass. For us, our obsession was with people who could harmonize and really bring in the vocal element, use the voice like another instrument,” Wystrach said.
That conversation led to a six-month journey of writing songs and sharing them back and forth until they locked themselves for 10 days in a studio at Sonic Ranch outside El Paso.
“It was just an experiment. It wasn’t us saying, all right in four years we’re going to have the Grammy nominations, the ACM nomination, play all the late-night shows. We’re going to have millions of listeners every week. It was, ‘Hey, let’s give it one more shot. This music is in our blood and we’d like to try it out’,” Wystrach said.
By the time “Drinkin’ Problem” dropped last summer, the band had been criss-crossing the rough-and-tumble Texas honky tonk circuit and clocking in 12- to 14-hour days writing and recording.
The single, co-written by the band and Nashville songwriting heavyweight Mac McAnally, was the game-changer.
Midland found itself on the marquee opening for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Soul2Soul” tour and last week wrapped up 23 dates with Little Big Town and Kacey Musgraves. After Thursday’s Rialto show, they play a sold-out show at Phoenix’s Celebrity Theatre on Friday, April 27, before shooting over to California to play the main stage at Stagecoach, whose headliners include Garth Brooks and Keith Urban. Wystrach said it will be their biggest show to date.
Thursday’s Rialto audience will include a busload of fans from Sonoita, as well as Wystrach’s Salpointe High School buddies and some UA friends. In many ways, minus the dust and the sun’s blaring rays, the Rialto will feel a lot like Wystrach’s vision of the Sonoita racetrack.
“It’s just going to be a pure celebration. ... I’m just excited to show people what we’re all about,” said Wystrach, who earned a degree in finance and marketing from the University of Arizona and briefly wore a Wildcats football uniform as a walk-on.
“Tucson will always be my home and I always miss the Catalinas and the saguaros, the people and the Mexican food. I can’t wait to come back and celebrate with you all.”