Living the Dream: Inaugral Dreamville Festival

With the release of Revenge of the Dreamer III, I thought it was fitting that I revisit my most recent Dreamville experience before digging into the new project. In April, I had the pleasure of attending J. Cole’s inaugural Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina with my #bigauntie in crime, Big Lex. Check out the festival line-up below:


Check out our Dreamville Gallery for more images.

With 40,000 people in attendance, Dreamville is the largest festival I’ve attended to date. Headliners – including the entire Dreamville roster, 6lack, Teyanna Taylor, SZA, and 21 Savage – undoubtedly drew fans from across the country to Dorothea Dix Park for an event that surely is one to be remembered. On top of the live performances, there were several unique attractions, such as the Beer Garden, and activities, like putt-putt golf. The Dreamville team obviously put a great deal of thought and effort into this festival, especially considering the festival was originally set for September of 2018 but had to be rescheduled for Spring 2019 due to Hurricane Florence. Not to mention the weather the weekend of the event in April was shaky. With all the bumps in the road to achieve this event, the Dreamville team pulled it all together quite nicely for this jam packed one-day festival.

Now let’s switch gears and relive this awesome experience. Warning: This will be a lengthy read.

It’s a muggy day in Raleigh, NC, but the sun is peaking through the scattered gray clouds. The ground is still wet from the heavy rain last night, but you got on your boots, so you’re not worried about a little mud. It’s 11:20 AM; you and the other two amigos catch a Lyft for the 15-minute ride to Dorothea Dix Park. As soon as you pull up, you see groups of people hopping out of cars and making their way down the long dirt path leading to the East entrance. After about a five-minute walk you see the Dreamville archway, already crowded with eager fans snapping shots under the disco ball hanging below the logo.

Two steps into the park and the energy is already electric. Despite the thick Southern heat and muddy grounds everyone is ecstatic. Just past the entrance is “Dreamville” spelled out in pink balloons and the festival logo crafted in sand. At this moment you have officially entered Cole’s own hip-hop version of Alice in Wonderland. First stop, the bar! Everyone is lining up early to get their drinks before the first set starts at 12:30 PM. You step to the bar and ask the bartender about the Dreamville Brew, the exclusive local brew being sold today. They kindly point you and your comrades towards the Beer Garden. So, your adventure begins.

As you make your way through the unapologetic and vibrant crowds filled with a mixed melody of ebony you spot the merch stand. First side quest underway. After a bit of a wait and a few good laughs, this merch stand is a bust. No need to fret though as you’ve got your handy dandy Dreamville map and can spot at least three more merch stands off top.  Back to the original task. You guys head back towards the Beer Garden. This attraction is surrounded by a white picket fence. There are giant games, like cornhole and 21 Savage putt-putt golf. The beautiful vined backgrounds with life-size sunflower sculptures make the perfect backdrop for group photos. Everyone is smiling and laughing as you make your way towards the bar. “One Dreamville brew, please.”

As you pop the lid on the small can wrapped with cartoon clouds, a cityscape, and sunset background, you notice the smell of food trucks to your left. You all hop in line and start eyeballing the menu. Fried porkchops, whole wings, catfish, ribs…Dreamville did not come to play!

As the line grows, a couple, well aroma, behind you catches your attention. Seemingly already hip to your inquiry, they give you the rundown on the pre-rolls and gummies on the other side of the park. If this is the Wonderland Alice stumbled into, girl why did you leave!? Post cannabis consumption you wander to the nearest merch stand to cop the tie-dye fest shirt you’ve been eyeing. The one thing this fest is not short on is lines, but a nice piece of memorabilia is worth it. While waiting in line you, hear the rumblings of an HBCU band in the distance. Now, you know there is no way that a marching band is walking through this park, you just know. Well, guess what? It is a full-blown marching band making their way through Dreamville RIGHT NOW! Hands down Blackest Festival moment you’ve ever experienced. I mean, A WHOLE MARCHING BAND! Once you get over your amazement and the band has come and gone, Ari Lennox takes the stage to your right. Ari sunders on stage in her signature jacket and dress combo ready to sing us into oblivion. As she moves from track to track effortlessly blending soul and grit, you catch an undeniable beat.

Hold it, need it, need it, yeah
Shea Butter Baby, fucking up your pillow”

Every Black girl within earshot begins belting out this hit. Ari, you did that sis, you did that. As she finishes up her set you finally make it to the front of the merch line. “Can I get the short sleeve tie-dye Dreamville tee?” Damn, it’s sold out. Oh well, you didn’t wait this long to leave empty handed. “I’ll take the black Dreamville Fest tee.”

As you walk away slightly disappointed, you make your way to the Shine stage to Teyanna Taylor’s set. Teyanna is always an explosive performer. She’s dressed in joggers and a crop tank, sporting a LA Dodgers fitted, showing off her hard to miss abs. Her and her dancers hop and bounce from one end of the stage to the other as Teyanna sings. As her set moves from her more fast-paced records to some softer tunes, she displays images of Nipsey Hussle and his family on the screen behind her. She offers an emotional tribute to her friend and his family as she exclaims “The marathon continues”. She closes out her set with her hit single “Issues/Hold On” and thanks the crowd as she exits the stage. Her perfectly executed choreography paired with her contagious energy leaves the crowd wanting more.

Next up, the Dreamville prodigy, J.I.D., who is up to his typical A-town antics, wilding and rapping his ass off. Coming off the release of DiCaprio II, he has some new fire to perform. But you know you’re waiting on your all-time favorite record “Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy”, the first song you ever saw him perform on the ProEra Tour back in ’14. As he rips the stage performing tracks like “Just the Other Day” and “Off Deez”, the crowd is going crazy. Just when you think he’s wrapping up, he brings out his fellow ATL natives, Earth Gang, to share the stage with him performing you guessed it, “Ed, Edd, ‘n Eddy”! They orchestrate a mosh pit and direct the crowd to wild out. The three perform a couple more tracks together before wrapping up.

As you stand in the crowd with your new Dreamville family, you watch the large screen on each end of the stage displaying the performance at the Rise stage across the park. Coming to the Rise stage now is 6lack. The From East Atlanta with Love rapper comes out donning a full trench, jeans, and a distressed top. In this heat, his outfit is the first thing you notice, and you share a few jokes with your neighboring fans about how hot he must be. The biggest downside to alternating performances is there is no sound to accompany visuals from the opposite stage, so goofing helps to pass time until the next performance.

Finally, 6lack’s set comes to an end, and the next performer to the Shine stage is getting ready to come out. While we all continued to boil in the North Carolina heat, we hear a familiar voice ring out from behind the stage. As we redirect our attention, Nelly and his brother come on stage. He performs classics such as “Hot in Here”, which is terribly appropriate considering the time of day and thickness of the crowd. He also performs “Air Force Ones” and songs he’s featured on with other artists like “Shake a Tailfeather”.

By the end of Nelly’s set, everyone is looking drained. You think about making a break for some water, but as you turn around you realize the depth of the crowd behind you has nearly tripled. Big Sean has just begun his set on the Rise stage, and you are counting down until 21 Savage’s performance so you’re staying put. Forty-five minutes later it’s time for 21 to grace the stage. The crowd is getting antsy but luckily, it’s getting cooler as the sun sets. Thirty minutes go by and your bladder has given up on 21. As you and your friend head to the back of the crowd towards the restrooms, the stage goes dark and in bright red letters, “21 Savage” comes on screen. The crowd erupts in screams. You make it through 2-3 songs before you’re back on the move. By the time you come out of the restroom, his set is wrapping up but SZA is already on stage. This is your first time seeing her live, and you must say it is entertaining. Her down-to-earth persona makes up for the quick burst of serenading. Moving along, everyone is slowly migrating back to the Shine stage for the pièce de résistance, Mr. Jermaine Cole himself.

All the hammocks in the shade display are taken, but it’s plenty of ground to cop a squat. As we all wait with anticipation, the crowd seems nearly silent. Then the crowd erupts as Cole strolls on stage donning a custom red Dreamville jersey with black and white racing blocks down both sides. He offers up a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the crowd, to the city, and to the artists. In true J. Cole fashion, he leaves the fans in near awe of his humbleness and realness. You’ve seen J. Cole more times than you can count, but each time is like the first time. Even in a crowd of 40,000 he manages to make it feel like a crowd of 40. He puts a lot of himself into his performance, drawing you in and pulling you close. Listening to him rap while sitting on a stool, no theatrics or distractions, is one of the most beautiful performances you can be blessed to see.

Don’t let the calm and mellow demeanor fool you; Cole brings out some bangers that get the crowd jumping. It is a beautiful, nearly symphonic, balance that is flawlessly orchestrated. As you sing along to songs like “Love Yourz”, “Crooked Smile”, and old school bangers like “Grown Simba”, you notice the sheer joy in the faces of those around you. Lyric after lyric, these fans go bar for bar throughout the set. There are moments you feel like “This is it. This is the best feeling in the world.” Being surrounded by tens of thousands of strangers sharing in one moment, one thing you all love. Cole continues to astound when he takes a moment in his set to pay homage to Nipsey Hussle. He takes that chance to express his hope that we all give people their flowers while they’re here. He then brings out Meek Mill, commending him for his efforts in criminal justice reform and as a hip-hop artist. As Meek performs “Dreams and Nightmares”, you can’t help but to notice Cole being the supportive friend we all hope we have. He even brings out 21 at one point, speaking on their relationship and performing “A lot”. Cole has no problem sharing or even stepping out of the spotlight to let another artist get their shine. Things begin to come to a close, and your 12 hour adventure draws to an end. You can’t help but to bask in the aftermath of this experience.

It is hell getting out of the festival. Small cities like Raleigh aren’t really equipped for crowds of this size. Even though by the end of the night you walked nearly two miles for a ride back to your hotel, and your feet were so sore you thought they would fall off, it is worth it. By your 6 o’clock flight, you are still on cloud nine reliving every moment, planning next year’s trip.

Now, back to reality.

Overall, the Inaugural Dreamville Festival was one for the books. The only quirks were transportation set-up and sound. Other than that, everything was perfect. From the line-up to the vendors, this festival did not disappoint. If you are looking for an exciting experience filled with fun and good music, I highly recommend attending the 2020 festival!