Those who know Billy Hubbard recognize that he’s an upbeat guy.
It’s one of the things that’s made The Station, the venue that he books and promotes in Blount County’s Miser Station community, one of the most inviting places to see live music in East Tennessee. Aside from the variety of music that The Station presents in the spring and fall, it also offers a sense of hometown — and homegrown — ambiance, bringing with it a shared sense of community among the people that attend on a regular basis, as well as an inviting atmosphere that makes folks feel comfortable.
However, like everyone else, Hubbard is heeding the warnings about the spread of the coronavirus and the need to curtail public events. As a result, he’s had to make some changes to The Station’s schedule, which was supposed to kick off early next month. The first two concerts, by Newtown and the Tennessee Sheiks — originally scheduled for April 4 and April 18, respectively — had to be canceled when word of the outbreak spread.
“We typically limit our seating to around 75 people max, but we’ll be following guidance from the CDC and state officials on suggested crowd size limitations due to the pandemic,” Hubbard said. “So unfortunately, we had to drop our first two shows. We’ve also changed the status of our remaining spring schedule to ‘pending,’ and will cancel shows as needed until the limitations are lifted. Other than the three fall dates I already booked, I’ve postponed booking the remainder.”
Once it does get underway, 2020 will mark the seventh year in a row that The Station has been in operation. It remains a family operation — John Johnston, Hubbard’s brother-in-law, and Sandy Johnston, Hubbard’s sister, own the property. John also takes the RSVPs, sells advance tickets and answers questions from the public. Richard Hill is the in-house sound engineer. Hubbard’s sister, Sandy, and his wife, Sarah, work the door and manage the pre-show barbecue, which is offered as an option for a modest additional charge.
Hubbard himself wears many hats, both literally and figuratively. He refers to himself as the “venue developer,” as well as “booking manager, social media guy, promoter and producer.” He frequently acts as the evening’s emcee and maintains his own career as a singer and songwriter, and occasionally performs at The Station himself.
“John will be wearing more hats as I free myself up to record my new album and launch other initiatives this spring,” Hubbard said. “I’ll still be generating the emails, but John now handles the replies.”
Despite the delayed opening of the new season, Hubbard remains optimistic about what the venue has in store in the upcoming year.
“I’m excited about the diversity our 2020 lineup brings to the area,” he said. “The Station is an Americana music venue, and as a result, I always strive to book a good mix of great artists from the pure forms of music that Americana draws from, such as bluegrass, country, folk, blues and singer-songwriters. At the same time, I look for artists that can push the boundaries a bit.”
Hubbard said he looks for artists that have the ability to make music with emotional undertow. He often steps back during the concerts to watch as the audience reacts, and he’s especially pleased when a performer can bring a crowd from laughter and elation to tears and reflection.
Indeed, in the six years since The Station opened its doors, it’s welcomed an impressive array of performers, among them such multi-Grammy-winning artists as Pam Tillis, Ashley Cleveland, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Dom Flemons and Charlie McCoy. In a previous interview with The Daily Times, Hubbard said the venue draws people from all over the country, including destinations as far afield as Canada, California and locations in between. That degree of loyalty makes him even more particular about the artists he books.
“We currently operate The Station as a not-for-profit, so other than covering our basic expenses, the artists receive the vast majority of the door, ticket and cover charges,” Hubbard noted. “That typically allows them to pocket far more money than they can earn at other venues.”
Admission for most shows is $20 for general admission and $25 for preferred seating. RSVPs are required.
Hubbard also mentioned that The Station is planning a new online component in conjunction with each show. It will take the form of a podcast that will include in-depth interviews with the artists performing at the venue, conversations and other added insights.