Updated: Jun 8, 2019
The Pub Station in Billings recently expanded in 2017 and its parent company, 11:11 Entertainment, acquired management of The Garage at Yellowstone Valley Brewing.
Owners Sean Lynch and Ann Kosempa spoke to the Montana Press in early April 2019 about the history of their music promotion company and their vision.
Montana Press: Tell us about 11:11 Entertainment.
Sean Lynch: Well, we moved back to Billings from Portland (Oregon) in 2001 and started a café called 11:11, and we did some small concerts in there, mostly local stuff. It was a food-based establishment, not any alcohol or anything. So that’s how 11:11 Presents really got started, it was based off of that restaurant.
Montana Press: Who were some of the first performers?
Sean Lynch: Well, prior to that in high school, I had been doing concert promotion here before we moved to Oregon. So way back in the day I had a company called Barking Frog Presents. So this is the late 80s, early 90s, we brought Green Day to the VFW. We brought The Offspring to the VFW. Those are kind of the big dogs. We had some what are now huge stars play in really small spots. When we moved back we were really focused on local music. Really trying to cultivate the local scene. We had some good shows in that room though; we did [American indie rock band] Minus the Bear. I’m trying to think what else was, I mean it’s so long ago. [Metalcore band] Atreyu before they were huge.
Ann Kosempa: There’s like nobody at that show in 2001. Sean was actually in a local band back in the early 90s. That’s how he also had gotten into doing shows.
Montana Press: What was the band?
Sean Lynch: It was like punk rock back in the day.
Montana Press: So you’re kind of a legend. You’re Billings legend. That’s what I’m picking up.
Sean Lynch: Well the band did well, did well all over the state. We were probably one of the biggest bands out of Montana until, I’m guessing, the Clintons came along maybe.
Montana Press: What was the name of the band?
Sean Lynch: It was Spurge.
Montana Press: So you grew up going to school in Billings and you have roots there? Does your family there?
Sean Lynch: That’s correct.
Montana Press: What about you Ann?
Ann Kosempa: (laughing) What ABOUT me? I’m from Bozeman. And mainly my focus has always been on the marketing and daily operations stuff. We’re married, if we’ve not mentioned that. And we’ve been together since…
Sean Lynch: …25 years this year.
Ann Kosempa:…1994. November 1994 as a couple. We’d known each other before that. I actually met Sean through my best friend at the time. He was in that band and she went to a lot of shows and then he started doing a show up at KGLT, actually, with another friend of mine. Sean is a musician. I’m more of the marketing side. I was going to do Advertising Management and Marketing anyway. I actually went to Portland State and got a degree, a Bachelor of Science in Advertising Management and Marketing and while we lived in Portland we were part of a record label called Resistor Records and he was still in other bands doing shows, and I was involved with the record label in the sense of marketing and distribution and all that. So that’s how I started to become more interested in that industry.
Montana Press: What brought you back to Montana?
Sean Lynch: We wanted to open a restaurant. We had lived in Portland. We both had good jobs but we just realized if we wanted to wake up at three in the morning everyday to go to our jobs that was going to be it for probably the rest of my life. So we made the decision to just move back to Billings because we thought the community could use something different.
Montana Press: What is the current scope of 11:11 Presents?
Sean Lynch: Well, Ann and I are co-owners. We have 11:11 Entertainment. We have 39 employees ranging from anything from security person to marketing to production to…
Ann Kosempa: Sound engineers.
Sean Lynch: And Bartenders, all of those kinds of things.
Ann Kosempa: The Pub Station actually was our vision for a long time. It’s 11:11 Presents/Entertainment’s own room.
Sean Lynch: 11:11 Entertainment owns the space. We own the venue and then we have another company that actually owns the building.
Montana Press: But you are still promoting events through 11:11 in Billings and beyond?
Sean Lynch: Well we did Billings, Bozeman and Missoula for a lot of years. We got out of Missoula probably a couple of years ago. We were producing about seventy shows a year in Missoula for probably 10 years. And we’d do maybe 20-30 a year in Bozeman, right around there.
Montana Press: What were some of the venues in Bozeman?
Sean Lynch: Emerson, Eagles Ballroom, the Filling Station. There were just not a lot of choices up there.
Montana Press: Are you more focused on the Billings area now?
Ann Kosempa: Absolutely.
Sean Lynch: It’s where the money is, so we’re just trying to stay in our home market because it’s where our core financial income is.
Montana Press: You managed the Babcock Theater for many years before renovating the Pub Station to create the ballroom. Was is part of the vision for an ideal room for 11:11 events?
Sean Lynch: The Babcock Theater was kind of weird, or not weird but set up in a different way. There was a “Save the Babcock” campaign in the city about twelve years ago. The city purchased the theater and all of the commercial space tied to the Babcock, with the intention that the people that took it over would have to do these improvements. They could keep their retail spots but they would turn the theater back over in ten years. That came up two years ago. And so we managed the theater for six or seven years and saw the writing on the wall. It was becoming a big part of our business but we knew that it wasn’t going to be an available venue to us and so we decided to build a room that would facilitate those size of events.
Ann Kosempa: We were hoping to obtain that goal in about seven to ten years, anyway. The Babcock Theater basically and, honestly, the reception of what we were doing by our community and the support of it basically sped that process up by three to five years.
Montana Press: How did you make it happen so quickly?
Sean Lynch: We went to a bank and they supported us. We’d shown good numbers. It’s just Ann and I; we don’t have any outside investors and we don’t have any outside input from anybody whatsoever. So we decided to take the plunge and we were able to. It was a banker that had some faith in us and decided that he would help us finance a Beer and Wine License. Which we have now, a Non-gaming Beer and Wine License, but it was still two hundred grand. We had been doing events at multiple bars in town for ten years. I mean eight years prior to that. So there’d been a lot of history, the Babcock, MetraPark, Zoomontana, we’d been doing stuff at all those places. We were in the process of trying to buy an existing venue here and it was just becoming a total nightmare, and I just kind of threw my hands up and said, “I think we’re going to try and do this on our own.” And there was a couple of folks that were also involved with the Babcock that at that point in time had sold some real estate and timing worked out great. We bought the license and they bought the building and we were their lessees for the first three years.
Montana Press: And those are the individuals who have recently bought the Yellowstone
Valley Brewing, is that correct?
Sean Lynch: Correct.
Montana Press: And you run the management for the Garage there?
Sean Lynch: We have a real, vested interest in Yellowstone Valley. There was a place called the Railyard here that had gone out of business. That was kind of a smaller room that local bands could kind of cut their teeth on and when that went away that was a huge loss for Billings because the Pub Station was just not really able to do those kinds of things. But then Yellowstone Valley came up for sale. It was actually the building owner here who called me and was just like, “Hey I just saw Yellowstone Valley’s for sale.” He had wanted a brewery and had tried talking to us about a brewery for years. I quit drinking twenty years ago so to me it’s like, “I don’t really care, man; it’s whatever you want to do.” I don’t know anything about beer but I was immediately like, “We’re in!” And I think Ann was just like, “What are you doing?”
Ann Kosempa: Well, the real sell on it is that it’s one of Billings own, original breweries. That means a lot and it carries a lot and being from this community it was tough to think it had a real possibility of going completely away.
Sean Lynch: It’s a loss that Billings couldn’t take at that point in time.
Ann Kosempa: Yeah, it was basically a loss we didn’t want to see happen and when it was brought it to our attention, we agreed.
Montana Press: What’s the Pub Station like with the 2017 ballroom expansion? It’s probably a completely different experience than what many Montanans remember from many moons ago in the space.
Sean Lynch: The room, the ballroom, holds 800. 795 is what the capacity is on it with RCF Line Array as our sound system
Montana Press: What kind of events and performers best suit the space?
Sean Lynch: We do everything. I mean, we’ll turn around and do a metal show and the next day have a rap show and next day have a country show. We just do everything. And then turn around and rent it out to Big Sky Economic Development Association.
Ann Kosempa: Or a wedding.
Sean Lynch: Right. We do not only just concerts but a lot of private rental business as well.
Montana Press: Is there anything comparable in Billings for rental space?
Sean Lynch: I mean there’s a lot of hotel ballrooms and those types of things. There are definitely rental spaces. Ours is a little bit more of an industrial feel but to certain people it’s great. We’re definitely the spot for some people.
Montana Press: It’s an ideal location right in mid-city on First Ave. What’s the history of the building?
Sean Lynch: It was the Greyhound station until about 2003, but it was a bus station up until June of 2014.
Ann Kosempa: They’d been trying to sell the building for several years.
Montana Press: It sounds like it was just the right fit and the right timing.
Sean Lynch: Yeah, it was good timing and we were lucky we had made a deal with the previous owners that we would one day have the option to buy and I think it was in ten years or something
Ann Kosempa: It was.
Sean Lynch: And he was like, “Hey, you wanna buy right now?” So we kind of just got on it and got that done as well.
Ann Kosempa: We purchased the building last June.
Sean Lynch: It was last June; it was a long process.
Montana Press: What are some of the biggest draws you’ve had to that facility?
Sean Lynch: As far as, probably the biggest star we’ve ever had, but I wouldn’t say it was the biggest draw; we had Chris Stapleton before he was big here [in 2015], so I mean, we didn’t even sell out the small room with Chris Stapleton. So he’s probably the biggest star we’ve had here. We’ve had a lot of success though.
Ann Kosempa: Shakey Graves.
Sean Lynch: Shakey Graves. Flogging Molly.
Ann Kosempa: Chase Rice.
Sean Lynch: Chase Rice. Turnpike Troubadours. We’ve done, I mean we do about 200 shows a year.
Montana Press: How many ticket sales do you have annually?
Sean Lynch: 57,000 tickets.
Montana Press: What are some of the challenges you face in running 11:11 as far as management and running the brick and mortar business?
Sean Lynch: We’re lucky right now because we have a really good staff. But finding qualified people is challenging.
Ann Kosempa: We expect a lot. And our current staff that we have, pretty much all of them, have been with us for years.
Sean Lynch: We have about a 95% retention rate or somewhere close to that.
Ann Kosempa: That’s, I think, both a strength and a challenge. Finding qualified employees right now is tough.
Montana Press: What do you think makes Billings a good fit for this business?
Sean Lynch: Well you know we’re from here. I’m from here, so I feel like there’s that part of it. Being a local person from here definitely helps the cause. In producing events here for so many years, you kind of have a feel for what the Billings market is. We get a lot of comparisons to Missoula. And generally we only, in Billings, book at the most maybe 22 percent of the same shows. But it’s generally under 15 percent of the same shows.
Ann Kosempa: The markets are completely different.
Sean Lynch: Totally different.
Ann Kosempa: I think part of it for me is that we absolutely love Billings. We love living here. We own our home downtown. We now own our business as well as the building downtown. Our kiddo goes to school downtown. We’ve been on this scene for decades. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of hitting your head against the wall some days. And a lot of “Woo hoo! We got something done!” on other days.
Sean Lynch: We’re invested in downtown Billings. Ann serves on the Economic Development Board. I serve on the Chamber of Commerce Board. We both serve on Downtown Billings Board. I mean, we’re actively involved in this community here.
Ann Kosempa: There are a lot of good talented people here. A lot of folks having and making opportunities and being able to participate and see your labor come to fruition. It’s really satisfying. It’s really cool.
Montana Press: Do you feel the community appreciates what you’re doing?
Sean Lynch: We’re overwhelmed by the response honestly. We figured that people would take to it, but it’s been far, far more embracing of it than we expected.
Ann Kosempa: Which is another reason we’re able to do things at three to five years when originally we were thinking seven to ten. It’s because of that support. So we definitely have been overwhelmed. It’s very humbling.
For more information on upcoming shows and events at The Pub Station or Yellowstone Valley Brewing, visit https://www.1111presents.com/