At 90, Barbara (Mother) Hubbard is still writing the play and teaching the actors in live entertainment
by Jessica Boudevin
Educator. Coach. Mentor. Icon. Eighty-two years in the workforce has only stoked Barbara “Mother” Hubbard’s drive. The nonagenarian began working at just eight years old, starting her quest to make an impact young. She has shaped the face of entertainment in Las Cruces, N.M., for half a century and has no intention of stopping any time soon.
Hubbard has already fit several careers into one lifetime. She spent many years as a physical education teacher at New Mexico Public Schools, beginning her time at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, in 1966 when then Athletic Director Lou Henson called her to open the doors of the Pan American Center in 1968. At the time, the facility solely hosted athletic events, but Hubbard had bigger plans that included turning the 13,000-seat venue into a must-stop for acts such as Ike & Tina Turner (the first facility rental in 1970) and Charley Pride (the first in-house production).
“People like me – we are driven,” she said. “The process is what keeps us going.”
She had to be driven. Other than a secretary, Hubbard was the only staff person until 1987 when she hired an assistant. Before that point, she ran the building relying entirely on the help of students.
It was during that time that Hubbard grew her passion for those students into the American Collegiate Talent Showcase (ACTS), which she has overseen and served as executive director of since 1978. ACTS began with a talent contest and scholarship in 1972, designed to benefit students studying music and theater. There are now 17 endowments, that Hubbard has fostered, named after and supported by such icons as Bob Hope, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and George Strait, pursuing music, and special events or entertainment business endowments inspired by business leaders such as Irving Azoff, Ben Farrell and Lon Varnell.
“I have kids all over the country and the world,” says Hubbard, speaking of her students. “You have to care about these young people and allow them to get hands-on experience.”
THE BUSINESS NOW
Though she ‘retired’ as director of Special Events at New Mexico State University in 1996, she continues her role with ACTS and continues to develop new ideas.
She is working on bringing a new entertainment business degree to New Mexico State University (as it relates specifically to venue management, club to stadium), along with working to secure an estimated $35 million to build a multiuse amphitheater complex.
“Education and training pays off,” says Hubbard. “Companies would rather have youngsters who have had some experience than just bringing them in and taking the time and investment to train them one by one.”
She has been recognized numerous times: as an inaugural Venues Today Woman of Influence in 2007, Billboard’s Golden Circle Award recipient, Pollstar’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 2015, the International Entertainment Buyers Association’s Harry Peebles Founder’s Award honoree, and the NMSU Presidential Medallion.
“It’s nice, but you know what it does for me?” Hubbard asks. “It makes me feel like my students make me look good because they’re so successful. We’ve probably got more kids in the business than most people. There are people all over this industry with New Mexico State University shirts and socks — especially socks.”
Hubbard prefers to connect with people face-to-face, on the phone or heart-to-heart instead of on Facebook. She keeps her own biological children, with late husband of 47 years Pierce, within a stone’s throw.
“If I’m looking at the mountains out my window, on the left-hand side is my rock’n’roll drummer and on my right is my redneck cowboy,” she says, of her two sons, Dru and Hub, respectively. They and their families come for Sunday dinner each week “and have been doing so for umpteen years, but now the boys help me cook.”
On the menu this week: barbecue chicken succotash, cabbage coleslaw, garlic bread, key lime pie, chocolate cake and ice cream. The evening includes from 12-22 people. On a less rigid schedule, Hubbard’s industry ‘kids’ will swing by when routing allows for her signature enchiladas, which she’s happy to make any hour.
Her mind is sharper than ever, and her body is keeping up thanks to a strong foundation from years of teaching physical education and “running up and down the PanAm steps in the days before walkie-talkies or these crazy telephones we have now.”
Most nights she hops on a stationary bicycle and she enjoys hanging upside down on her inversion table to “give the joints a break.” Plus, she is constantly on the move, constantly walking, including on the NMSU campus.
“If you were to walk from the box office to Scott Breckner’s office (director of Special Events at NMSU), that’s a quarter-mile, easy,” said Hubbard. “You have to take care of this old machine we call the body, especially on the shadowy side of the mountain.”
As she tirelessly provides advice and opportunities for others, Hubbard remains grateful to those who helped her along the way. Legendary promoters Ben Farrell and the late Lon Varnell became friends early on, along with former Great Western Forum and Ticketmaster exec Claire Rothman.
“When you get into this business when I did, there wasn’t any textbook for it. I had to have some guidance,” she said. “Just to pick up the phone and be able to call them was a great help.”
In addition to providing her with the ‘Mother’ Hubbard name, Bob Hope left another lasting impression on Hubbard’s life by lending his name to help start the ACTS program. In 1973, she brought Vietnam to Bob Hope for a Christmas show at Pan American Center for 12,593 veterans and civilians, without a dry eye in the house, which still ranks as one of Hubbard’s most meaningful events. In the process of that event, Hubbard connected with Hope’s publicist Ward Grant and manager Mark Anthony.
“It’s one of those things you don’t stop and remember, often enough,” she said. “But, boy, when you sit down and think about it, a lot of people really help you get where you are.”
Don Fox and Barry Leff of Beaver Productions “gave me a vote of confidence and trusted that I could do it,” when it came to Hubbard’s first stadium production in 1992, a show featuring Metallica and Faith No More at Aggie Memorial Stadium that sold 37,000 tickets. “I give them a lot of ‘thank yous’ for trusting me and the kids,” she added, and went on to bring other big shows to the stadium including Paul McCartney and The Eagles.
Though there have been too many memorable moments to count in the past, Hubbard is focused on creating new memories and experiences. A large anniversary is looming, with 2018 marking half a century since Hubbard opened Pan American Center. She’s working to bring five major shows to the arena – one to celebrate each decade.
Hubbard’s motto hasn’t changed since her first in-house production, a concert with Charley Pride. His manager, Jack Johnson, asked Hubbard if she had ever done anything similar before.
“I said, ‘No, Jack, but you know what? I’m going to give it the old college try,’” Hubbard reminisced. “That’s the same thing I did with putting the first concerts in this valley, bringing tours to the stadium, and doing the ACTS program. It’s all been ‘the old college try,’ and I wouldn’t trade that for all the tea in China.”
“I’m not on anyone’s payroll, so no one can fire me. I get to preach what I feel like we need to meet the needs we’re facing today.”
“The greatest heritage anyone can have is a good foundation.”
“I’m just doing what I love doing. I don’t know what 90 is supposed to feel like. It’s one of those crazy things in life.”
“You never know when your time’s up. I’m ready whenever He calls. But I laugh and tell everyone I want to talk Him out of it for a few more years.”
“For me I’d rather love than hate. I’d rather be positive than negative. Anyway, my life has been a great, great journey.”
“If you ask if I’m spiritual, well I’m afraid I am. Actually, I’d be more afraid if I weren’t…. I’d rather live my life as if there is a judgment day than not and find out there is. I’m betting on the Come.”
“Life is a great big ol’ platter, and I want to pick everything I can pick.”
CREATING A LEARNING PLACE
The live entertainment industry is populated with well over a hundred former students and assistants to Barbara (Mother) Hubbard of New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, for one very important reason – she believes in learning by doing. Students who worked on concerts with Hubbard at the Pan American Center, Las Cruces, and other venues in the region were given instructions and let loose to make it happen.
“We had adult supervision, but we were never kicked out of the [settlement] room,” said Michael Lorick, Harbinger Management, who learned the business by transferring to NMSU to work with Hubbard in the 90’s. Today, his main client is Bruce Springsteen and he reviews deals and handles accounting for various touring acts, a career that began with Hootie and the Blowfish back in his Las Cruces days.
He vividly recalls wanting to get into the music business and representing his school at the time, the University of South Carolina, Columbia, at a National Association of Campus Activities conference in Nashville. Hubbard caught his attention because she seemed to be a magnet to everyone in the room, perhaps, he surmised, because she was a nice old lady. Then he found out about all the name acts traveling to Las Cruces and discovered why: Mother Hubbard.
“She chases it. She’ll find a way,” Lorick learned. So he transferred to NMSU for a semester to discover her secret sauce and learned so much, so quickly he stayed to graduate.
“By the time I was two or three months into it, I was rolling pretty fast with settlements, studying accounting, so they had me doing show budgets,” Lorick said. “We would work our own student shows, which were pretty big shows, arena-sized shows, with student government money, rolling the dice. We also worked on shows with outside promoters.”
“She wanted us to be part of that experience. I remember one night at settlement, the promoter said, ‘do you want to be more private; shall we close the door?’ and she said, ‘no, that’s how it is here. This is a learning place and this is the real world. If they can’t hack it here, they won’t make it on the outside. There’s nothing you can say that they can’t hear.’”
And learn they did. A student-promoted cranberries concert sticks out in Lorick’s mind. The group exploded after the onsale, growing from a 5,000-seater to 12,000 seats by showtime four months later. “We couldn’t afford the guarantee they wanted originally, so we basically gave them the entire back end in lieu of a low guarantee. Literally, the one big winner we had we got like one percent.” And a truckload of training.
In Lorick’s travels, he’s never seen students “get hands on experience with the caliber of shows we got to touch and feel and make mistakes on our own” like Mother Hubbard’s “kids” do. “You have to have someone like Barbara who is willing to lay across the railroad tracks and say, ‘this is the way I want it. I’m going to be here.’ She fought hard for the students. And she’s fearless.”
Former student Sabrina Garza, who is now events manager at the New Mexico State Fair, Albuquerque, worked as associate student director for the special events department at NMSU and made her career the live event business, all because she met Mother Hubbard.
“She was very hands on,” Garza said. “She told us what to expect and we sometimes thought, no it can’t be. She was very patient. Mother was always right.”
Most important, Hubbard “taught us to pay attention to detail,” Garza said. “We learned how little things can blow up.”
After 17 years in the business and still nearby, she continues to visit and work with Hubbard, sometimes visiting her at The Ranch, Hubbard's five-bedroom home with a view atop the West Mesa.
“She’s a feisty one. I remember I was in her office at the house when she looked out the window and said, ‘I’ll be right back,’” Garza remembered. “Then I heard the garage door close, saw a shadow go past the window, and there she was, cocking the BB gun because the peacocks were eating her flowers. She wanted to get their attention.”
Scott Breckner, who currently runs Pan Am Center, recalled staying at the Ranch for eight months when he was transitioning into the job.
“I was not the only person who lived at that ranch,” Breckner said. “Back in the day, when tours were traveling down I-25, she would invite them to her house. Back in the day, she had George Strait in the Student Union seating 600 people. Early on, she paid Keith Urban $100 to do a student show at Hubbard Music. Jon Bon Jovi rode horses at the ranch.”
“We keep telling her you need to record all these stories,” Breckner said. “And she says, ‘oh, I’ll get around to do it.’ She’ll live forever, at least ‘till God takes her.’ That’s her favorite phrase.
“How many people, at 90, are still promoting Garth Brooks? Let that set in a little bit.”
What stands out about Barbara Hubbard? “She is such a sincere individual and probably would do anything for you,” Breckner said. “She’s the best of the best, and still constantly on the go.”