98 RockFest brings eight bands to the Ladson fairgrounds
By Ballard LesemannSpecial to The Post and Courier – Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Bullet for My Valentine
In This Moment
Surrender the Fall
If you go
As the operations manager and an afternoon jock at local radio station 98 Rock, Matthew Potter has been celebrating the heavier side of rock ’n’ roll in Charleston for years.
Every spring, Potter and his colleagues get especially amped up about the station’s annual 98 RockFest, an all-day concert and festival featuring some the heaviest and hottest acts from the station’s playlist.
“It’s a lot of work nowadays,” Potter said. “We had to work extra hard on RockFest this year. Regional promoters yell at each other for months every year, but we get clearance through the labels and agents to put this thing together each time.”
Presented by Monster Energy and Jagermeister, this year’s 98 RockFest is set for Sunday at the Exchange Park Fairgrounds in Ladson, home of the annual Coastal Carolina Fair. The roster will feature sets from Stone Sour, Bullet for My Valentine, Halestorm, In This Moment, Young Guns, Otherwise, Surrender the Fall and Gemini Syndrome.
A familiar, laid-back voice on the local airwaves, Potter started working at 98 Rock eight years ago. He’s helped book, organize and promote the station’s annual spring rock festival since the 2006 outing at Blackbaud Stadium on Daniel Island. It has made the Exchange Park its home base since 2007.
The Bridge 105.5 and 98 Rock are the two local FM stations owned by the Lexington, Ky.-based LM Communications family.
Starting out under the name 98 Rock, it switched to 98X in 2004. Shortly after the demise of longtime alt-rock station 96 Wave, 98X changed back to 98 Rock in fall 2010.
Among broadcasters, 98 Rock is officially categorized as an “active rock” station.
“There was no reason to be 98X anymore,” Potter said. “98X was in-your-face to the extreme — to the point where people didn’t know who we were exactly. But with 98 Rock, anyone who’s never listened to us before can tell you that we’re a rock station. It was a no-brainer for us, and it worked out well.”
Unlike the growing number of FM stations that rely on automation, 98 Rock continues to feature live DJs who are in the booth, on the mic, manning the mixing boards and taking phone calls.
Having actual local DJs working live and in-house helps, Potter said.
“That’s one of the coolest things about the team here,” he said. “We work well together and brainstorm all the time. We check out new songs by new artists together. We have different personalities, on the mics and behind the scene. We have fun doing what we do.”
Both stations have readjusted how they advertise, promote and reach out to listeners in recent years, spreading the word via Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.
“We’ve had an incredible response on social media,” Potter said. “It’s a different game from 10 years ago; 98 Rock is still crushing it with big corporate guys and with local advertisers. When we want to break some big music news or announce a concert, we want our listeners to hear from us first, whether it’s on the air or through Facebook.”
As an active rock station, 98 Rock is unusually flexible with the artists it features in its playlists. Potter can plug in a few classic rock bands from the late ’60s and ’70s between more contemporary acts. Listeners might catch some Led Zeppelin, AC/DC or Aerosmith alongside the likes of the Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica or Kid Rock.
The majority of the roster draws from recent and current hard rock, heavy metal and alternative fare though.
“We try to blanket this town with rock ’n’ roll,” Potter said of 98 Rock and its sister station. “We have The Bridge, which is Triple-A (“adult album alternative”) and leans alternative, and we have 98 Rock, which is active rock and leans alternative. The challenge is to play everything up on both stations without crossing over too much.”
Potter admits that there are a couple of current bands that he can’t quite figure out, such as Vampire Weekend, Silversun Pickups and Muse.
“It sounds weird coming out of Bob Dylan and Dave Matthews Band and going into Vampire Weekend on The Bridge, and it sounds weird going from Vampire Weekend into something like Godsmack on 98 Rock,” he said. “Some bands are just so specifically alternative rock that we almost don’t know what to do with them.”
“Across the board, we want to be the guys who just play good music,” Potter adds. “My goal every day is to put on good music. But we have to work within our genres. Knowing our product and doing it well leads to success, but it’s a tough one. The challenge is a good one to have, and for the most part, I think we’ve got it down.”
Only a few years ago during the 98X heyday, Potter and his colleagues referred to their annual RockFest as Live X Day.
For the earliest concerts, they booked a variety of veteran acts, up-and-comers and local bands. The name has changed, but the straightforward formula is relatively the same.
This year’s headliners include Iowa-based rockers Stone Sour, Pennsylvania’s lady-fronted Halestorm and the Welsh quartet Bullet for My Valentine.
Potter seems especially stoked about the Stone Sour performance. Singer Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root started the band in the late ’90s prior to forming the horror-show themed Slipknot. Stone Sour’s recent releases, 2010’s “Audio Secrecy” and the newly issued “House of Gold & Bones — Part 1 and 2,” demonstrate a more positive and optimistic vibe, compared with the gloomier, scarier style of Slipknot.
“Cory is one of the biggest dudes in rock this year, as big as Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters,” Potter said. “Stone Sour is as big as it gets in active rock right now.”
Potter recently interviewed Taylor on-air (if you missed it, it’s available online at the station’s YouTube channel). At one point, Potter described Taylor as an “ambassador of hard rock.”
During their animated chat, Taylor told Potter, “Whether it’s hard rock or heavy metal, we are the genre that’s notorious for kind of getting shoved back into a corner once in a while, but we’re OK with that.
“At the end of the day, we’re not supposed to be accepted. We’re not supposed to be the popular kids in school. We’re supposed to be the weird guys who come back up. This genre is a great reflection of the people who listen to it: the misfits and outcasts and tribes of individuals.”
Pennsylvania quartet Halestorm struck gold last year with their energetic album “The Strange Case of.”
Frontwoman Lzzy Hale (aka Elizabeth Hale) and her bandmates have toured heavily around North America on the wave of critical and fan acclaim.
“Halestorm is great on stage,” Potter said. “(Earlier this year) the band was up for a Grammy Award, and they won Best Rock Record of the Year. We were glad to have them at RockFest in 2011, and we’re thrilled to have them back.”
Bullet for My Valentine formed in 2003 in Bridgend, South Wales. Fronted by charismatic singer Matthew Tuck, the band blends bits of classic British metal and U.K. punk with modern American alt-rock styles.
“Bullet for My Valentine has got this huge underground following,” Potter said.
Led by vocalist Gustav Wood, the London-based quintet Young Guns is traveling the U.S. this season in support of a new album titled “Bones.”
Hailing from Las Vegas, alt-rock foursome Otherwise delivers a more melodic, guitar-based style on its latest collection, “True Love Never Dies.”
Memphis, Tenn.-based hard rockers Surrender the Fall specializes in a dynamic mix of alt-rock and riffy modern metal.
Gemini Syndrome, a heavy-hitting five-piece from Los Angeles, kick things off in Ladson as the festival opener.
“Altogether, RockFest 2013 is a huge show for a great price,” Potter said. “It’s eight great bands, five of whom have been in power rotation at 98 Rock all year. This is what our station is. We want everyone to come out and have great time.”