You can blame businessmen in the boardroom, an increasingly fractured musical community or a genre that just doesn’t wield the kind of cultural influence it once enjoyed, but the format shift that befell the former 95 Rock this week – it’s now a throwback hip-hop station – is more than a local loss. It’s a sign of the times.
While rock fans – myself included – bemoan the idea that there will not be a station dedicated to contemporary practitioners of the loud-and-proud style, the truth is today rock music has more in common with jazz than the legendary acts that laid the foundations of the form.
Rock music today is increasingly fragmented, with most acts focusing on very specific – and different – demographics. A fan of a active radio rock act like Kellen Heller, booked at Surreal at Surrey on Jan. 31, is probably not going to find many playlist intersections a fan of more indie-leaning acts such as the Glands, booked at Sky City on Feb. 20. That’s not to say that one band is more artistically legitimate than another. It’s simply a fact that the days when most rock music fans could find some common ground are far behind us.
And that was the raw truth that brought 95 Rock down.
While it experimented with some specialty shows – Radar Radio and the Witching Hour being the two most successful examples – the station survived for many years by building on a model of a fairly specific type of act. It was rock and roll for the greatest common denominator. But as that common denominator split and splintered, fracturing into a variety of subsets and siloed fanbases, it became more difficult to attract, and keep, the listeners required to keep the station operating.
I hate to see it go, but I am also not surprised. I’m also not surprised that there has been significant outcry from the station’s fans. It was similar protests that all but saved the station in 2012, but, as it turned out, the reprieve was temporary. Rock no longer rules the radio roost and 95 Rock is a victim of that reality.
So does this mean rock music is failing and falling? On the contrary. I like to believe that it is returning to the place it really belongs. It’s been so popular for so long that it is often difficult to remember that it was always intended to be outsider music. It’s the music of rebellion and a great rock tune is more about catharsis than capital. Fans of rock music will always be able to find it. But in this market, at this time, it won’t be on the radio. Hopefully in the future things will shift once again.
IT TAKES MORE THAN A STAGE. Last week, country legend Merle Haggard sold out the Columbia County Exhibition Center with more than 2,000 fans in attendance.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the newest of Augusta-area venues leaves an awful lot to be desired.
While the sound was admittedly better than I expected from what is essentially a big concrete box, it’s still a room clearly not built for live performance. The lack of raked seating meant that anyone sitting beyond the third row was dealing with severely compromised sight lines. And while this is only conjecture, I believe raising the house light prematurely – they came on a few times during the show – may have robbed the audience of an encore. It’s the only reason I can think of that Haggard would have skipped playing Mama Tried, one of his more significant hits.
While it may still be possible to mold the Exhibition Center into a suitable space for live music, it’s clear that there are a few issues that require attention.