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Welcome to Midland, South Florida

There are distractions to be parsed when it comes to the country-music trio Midland, and not just their Nudie-style suits — garish, retina-melting ensembles that might make Porter Wagoner blush.

Based in Dripping Springs, Texas, outside of Austin, Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy and Jess Carson traffic in a sound that is an antidote to the backward-ballcap country music that has dominated the genre in the past few years. Midland’s debut album, “On the Rocks,” is country music of a particular era, a 1970s-’80s jukebox: Waylon and Willie, George Strait and Alan Jackson, Eddie Rabbit in the clutches of the Eagles.

Rolling Stone called it “a fantastic album, full of tight, honeyed harmonies and songs about breaking hearts, getting stoned and working the road.”

Improbably, Midland’s first single, “Drinkin’ Problem,” is nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Song, and the band also is nominated in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category. The 60th annual Grammy Awards air live from New York's Madison Square Garden at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28.

“It certainly made all of the last year, the last 20 years [working with various bands], worth it,” bassist Duddy says by phone from the plains of Oklahoma. “Driving in vans, locked in rehearsal places, playing our shows to zero people, having to ask your parents to borrow money to pay the rent, allowing us to be out here chasing this weird dream. It validates all of that.”

Before the Grammys, Midland will be in South Florida for two performances this weekend. On Friday, Jan. 19, the trio will be at Double Dee’s Ranch in West Palm Beach, and will perform on Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Kiss 99.9 Chili Cook-off at C.B. Smith Park, 900 N. Flamingo Road, in Pembroke Pines. The Kiss lineup also includes Darius Rucker, Old Dominion, Maren Morris, Big & Rich and Brandon Lay.

The backstory

Success has, as it will, brought out the contrarians, who take issue with the narrative of Midland’s up-by-their-bootstraps dues paying, even their claim to country-music legitimacy.

Indeed, the three are recent Texas transplants, having met while playing in bands on the Los Angeles club scene. Midland takes its name from Dwight Yoakam’s “Fair to Midland.”

Before they started the band, vocalist Wystrach had been a Calvin Klein underwear model, and guitarist Carson owned a hip retro clothing store, Reveille, in Portland, Ore. The two made their first musical connection with Duddy during an impromptu jam session a few days before Duddy’s 2013 wedding on a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., nuptials covered by People magazine (the ranch is owned by Duddy’s step-grandmother, actress Connie Stevens).

Duddy is an award-winning director of music videos, most recently Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” and “Versace on the Floor” and Jennifer Lopez’s “Ain’t Your Mama.” Mars was an early Midland fan, and considered signing the band to his new label when Big Machine (home to Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line and Rascal Flatts) swooped in.

“It would be cool to run into Bruno [at the Grammys],” Duddy says. “He’s just been a really close confidante. I think we might even have given him his first cowboy boots.”

The music

To those who flinch at such glamorous frills, there is redemption in Midland’s music, its honky-tonk legitimacy echoing with the rowdy style of one of the band’s patron saints, Gary Stewart.

The late country-music icon, a coal miner’s son who lived much of his life in Fort Pierce, is not a name that comes up much, especially among younger acts. But when listening to Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem,” co-written by Nashville hitmaker Shane McAnally, there is no way to unhear Stewart’s 1974 hit “Drinkin’ Thing.”

Known for a raging tenor and his earthy material, Stewart helped Midland form an immediate bond with McAnally, Carson says.

“We were talking about Gary Stewart to Shane McAnally and [co-writer] Josh Osborne, and they were stoked. They said it was the first time anyone had mentioned Gary Stewart,” Carson says. “It wasn’t actually the drinking thing. It was more of his feel, his songwriting approach, with a lot of chords and progressions.”

Called “one of country music’s greatest honky-tonk singers” by famed music journalist Chet Flippo, Stewart reached No. 1 in 1975 with “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” from the album “Out of Hand,” which also reached the Billboard Top 10.

Stewart, 59, was found dead in his Fort Pierce home in 2003 a month after his wife had died. His death came from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police.

“Gary Stewart definitely had a voice that was so different from anyone else in country music,” Carson says. “He was a voice that they said would never make it in country music, and he did it for just a short period of time. He was a very tortured person, who sang with a lot of soul.”

Midland will perform Friday, Jan. 19 (set time TBA), at Double Dee's Ranch, 8199 Southern Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Billy Craver opens at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10. Call 844-337-2624 or go to Facebook.com/RanchDDWPB. The Kiss 99.9 Chili Cook-off takes place Saturday, Jan. 20, at C.B. Smith Park, 900 N. Flamingo Road, in Pembroke Pines. Concert gates will open at 8:30 a.m., with music beginning at 10 a.m. Parking gates at 2 a.m. on Pines Boulevard and 6:30 a.m. on Taft Street. General-admission tickets cost $56, with parking passes $20, at WKIS.Radio.com. Vehicles must have a parking pass and all occupants must have a ticket to enter the park.

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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