98ROCKFEST 2024 Powers into Amalie Arena for Night of Solid Rock

Festival Review

Staind. Photo by Chyrisse.

By “Tampa” Earl Burton, Rock At Night Journalist & Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Photographer

98ROCKFEST Pre-Show. Photo by Tampa Earl.

Friday night was the annual pilgrimage that all hard rock fans in the Tampa Bay area have marked on the calendar. The reason? 98RockFest, which brought some of the biggest acts in the harder-edged music genre to Amalie Arena for an appreciative audience. What many thought was just a night of hard rock excellence turned out to be an entire DAY of festivities.

“Pre-Show Free Show” Massively Entertaining

Sleep Theory. Photo by Tampa Earl.

Starting at the ungodly hour of 2 PM (when most rockers are MAYBE just climbing out of bed), there was something for those who might have missed out on tickets for the sold-out concert. What 98Rock, Tampa’s (only) hard rock station, called their “Pre-Show Free Show” actually brought an excellent lineup in its own right. The trio of artists who played could have just as easily been inside Amalie as playing the “hype show” before it.

DJ Skratch n Sniff-Photo by Tampa Earl

With a little help from DJ Skratch n’ Sniff (providing between-set entertainment), Austin Meade, Tim Montana, and (perhaps most surprising) Sleep Theory were all a part of the nearly three-hour extravaganza that led up to the “Main Event.” Meade and Montana put on solid shows (Meade’s “Blackout” was particularly noteworthy) with their 30-minute sets. It was Sleep Theory, however, that made the most of their time on the pre-show stage.

The band ran through many of the tunes from their breakout EP Paper Hearts, and they even tossed up a cover of *NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” for good measure. By this time, the audience at the outdoor stage had grown noticeably and they were thoroughly entertained by the band. Considering the fact that a year ago Sleep Theory was an unsigned act, their performance demonstrated that the best is yet to come from these young upstarts.

A Night of Outstanding Music

Ayron Jones. Photo by Chyrisse.

The doors opened promptly at 5 PM and, with the first artist up within fifty minutes, there was a mad rush to the merch stand and/or the bar before the show started. Up first was Seattle’s latest rock star, Ayron Jones, who has two hit albums under his belt (Child of the State and Chronicles of the Kid) and a LOT of notice from knowledgeable rock fans. Jones did not fail to impress the Tampa throng, either, as he and his band brought the energy from the start of the show.

Matthew Jacquette of the Ayron Jones Band. Photo by Chyrisse.

Jones’s work on the guitar was eerily reminiscent of some other great Seattle rockers, and his fellow musicians on stage joined him in an epic and powerful set. Bassist Bob Lovelace was particularly notable, a whirling dervish on the stage that constantly kept the energy going. Guitarist Matthew Jacquette played expertly off Jones’ work, while drummer Bobby Jimmi kept the drive forward from behind the kit. It was an entirely too quick set, and here’s hoping that Jones will make another trip back to the Bay Area with his brand of rock.

Following Jones on the stage was the newcomer band Dayseeker, and this was perhaps the only misstep of the entire 98Rock show. While Dayseeker had a good amount of the crowd supporting them, their music seemed a bit out of place in the overall show. That isn’t to say that they didn’t do an excellent job; it was moody and singer Rory Rodriguez was open about how he used his personal life and struggles to write their current album, Dark Sun. It was different in mood from the other performers on the lineup.

Rory Rodriguez of Dayseeker. Photo by Chyrisse

After Dayseeker completed their set, the crowd began to buzz a bit as Asking Alexandria was on deck. The British band is a staple of hard rock radio, and they did not disappoint the sellout crowd. In fact, this writer said, “Oh, they’ve done some nice stuff – let’s see how they do.” What was the shocking surprise was just how HARD Asking Alexandria came with their repertoire. What are nice little songs on the radio became bombastic aural assaults, led by vocalist Danny Worsnop. The power surge went right to the end of the Asking Alexandria set, finished off with a rousing rendition of “Alone in a Room,” and the crowd was set for a thunderous finale.

Danny Worsnop of Asking Alexandria. Photo by Chyrisse.

The next band up was Seether who, according to singer Shaun Morgan, had not performed a live show in two years. You would have never known it from the way Morgan and the band performed, however, as they killed their hits throughout a 45-minute set. With their new Greatest Hits album out, perhaps we will see a bit more of Seether on the road over the next year, and perhaps we will see more new material from them.

Aaron Lewis of Staind. Photo by Chyrisse.

Aaron Lewis and Staind were up as the show’s closer, and it was simultaneously a strong finisher but also a good way to calm the crowd down after the powerful Seether set (there had been some mosh pits developing during both Asking Alexandria and Seether). Lewis sounded in excellent voice as he took the fans through the Staind catalog, including the latest CD Confessions of the Fallen. Surprisingly, Lewis hasn’t committed to moving forward with Staind – he had been working solo in the country music arena before the reformation of the band – so it remains to be seen how much longer we will see Staind together.

Overall, 98RockFest brought just what it said it would – the best in new hard rock from the best artists in the business. While I would have adjusted the lineup a bit (I would have put Dayseeker in the Free Show and moved Sleep Theory into the Indoor Lineup), the entirety of the ten-hour marathon was entertaining and a guitar lovers’ Nirvana. As this is the fifteenth year of 98RockFest, it leaves one wondering – how much longer can they continue to top themselves?


**Photos of Seether to follow.

Tampa Earl

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