Tyler Hubbard opens for Keith Urban at Rupp in Lexington Ky

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When asked if he will approach his opening set for Keith Urban’s Rupp Arena return this week any differently than the wildfire performances he has delivered over the past decade as half of the hit country duo Florida Georgia Line, Tyler Hubbard paused.

“Yeah,” he offered slowly. “I’ll probably move my mic stand over a little to the right.”

Outside of that, Hubbard the solo artist will differ little from Hubbard the band man. He remains a purveyor of modern country sounds, one that often reaches well outside the Nashville norm to build a stylistic vocabulary. The resulting music gets a workout and then some onstage through a performance bravado fueled by fun and physicality. The big difference is the name. This time around the one Hubbard will be going by is his own.

“I think it’s important for B.K. (Brian Kelley, Florida Georgia Line’s other half) and I to have our own voices and share our own music. We’ve always been a package deal. We’ve always been a brand, so to get to dive into who we are individually is just really fun for us and, I think, for the fans, as well. We’re having a great time with it. All the feedback to what we’ve been doing has been very encouraging.”

What Hubbard is doing, and what is being received quite heartily by fans, is a new six-song EP disc titled “Dancin’ in the Country.” It sports a homey shuffle titled “5 Foot 9,” a love song that spot checks, in order, God, Tim McGraw, trucks, whiskey and God again in its chorus. The song became a Top 5 country hit this summer.

Then there is the title tune, an alert composition that is indeed a dance song mixing country and pop accents. Hubbard wrote it with three proven Nashville songsmiths – Ross Copperman, Jon Nite and, what a coincidence, Keith Urban, the Aussie-raised country star Hubbard will open for on Oct. 6 at Rupp.

“We’ve been buddies for a little while,” Hubbard said of Urban “But we’ve actually only written one song together, ‘Dancin’ in the Country,’ so we’re batting 1,000 at this point. It feels pretty good, so we don’t want to mess it up. We’ve crossed paths quite a bit over the last few years. He’s one of the few guys who would just randomly reach out and text me, check in and see how I was doing, so we just have a cool relationship. For me, he’s sort of like an older brother or an uncle – somebody I look up to. That’s something I really value.”

Now for the big question. Why is Hubbard a solo artist in the first place? Formed in 2010, Florida Georgia Line became one of the hottest country acts to emerge that decade, landing a dozen singles in the Top 5. Of them, five – including a genre-busting collaboration with veteran rapper Nelly called “Cruise” – topped the country charts. That’s a lot to walk away from.

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Tyler Hubbard, left, and Brian Kelley, better known as Florida Georgia Line. They have taken a break from working together and are pursuing solo careers. Amy Sussman File photo

“Technically, it wasn’t my choice,” Hubbard said “It was sort of made for me. At the time, I didn’t really understand it fully. I definitely questioned it and sort of fought it for a while. I mean, I agree. Why would we walk away from this, you know? But B.K. was very passionate about a calling to go off and do his own thing. I told him he deserved 100 percent of his energy and resource. It was either FGL or solo, one of the two. For me, it was never about doing both. But I said, ‘It’s your choice and I’ll support you either way you want to go with it at this point. I understand both sides. Do what’s best for you and then I’ll go from there.’

“Looking back now, I do understand it. I think it was a blessing and I think it really is time for us to pursue our individual craft for a while and tell our stories. If the timing and everything works out right, who’s to say we won’t go back and do some more things together. But I think it’s very crucial for us as creative artists, writers and just individuals to have this time to do our thing. It feels very necessary.

“My time with FGL is something I’m extremely proud of, and it’s something I think about often. So I love to, for lack of a better term, honor the last 10 years in my show. I like to sing a couple FGL songs I had a part in writing and just really tell that part of the story because that’s a huge part of who I am. There are people in the audience who haven’t really connected the dots until I tell them, so it’s pretty neat to see. It’s a period of my life I’ll always be grateful for.”

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Tyler Hubbard, formerly of Florida Georgia Line, will open solo for Keith Urban at Rupp Arena on Oct. 6. John Russo

For now, Hubbard is quite happy to have crossed the Line. A full-length album, the first under his own name, is due out Jan. 27. After that, things accelerate.

“That’s the plan, man. Me and the band, we’re going to rock ‘n’ roll next year. I’ve told my manager I want to get in front of as many people as possible, so whatever that looks like, I’m up for it. I’ve missed those days of working in an intimate setting and getting to rock the clubs. It’s something I’m really looking forward to if next year plays out right. It will be a really cool dynamic between playing smaller venues and playing bigger venues and everything in between. “So let’s go play some clubs. Let’s go open for some bigger acts. Let’s get to some festivals. Yeah, we’re going to hit the ground running.”

Keith Urban in concert Raleigh, N.C.’s Coastal Credit Union Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek, Saturday night, Aug. 10, 2022. Scott Sharpe ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Keith Urban, Tyler Hubbard and Ingrid Andress

When: 7 p.m. October 6

Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine.

Tickets: $29.50-$228.50 through ticketmaster.com.

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