Dreamville Festival: A Warm Day in Cole World

BY NATALIE GUILLEN

This past weekend history was made in Raleigh, North Carolina as 40,000 people gathered in Dorothea Dix Park to mark what people might call “one of the city’s most successful music events.”

PHOTO: Abraham Gonzalez /  Dreamville Festival

PHOTO: Abraham Gonzalez / Dreamville Festival

Dreamville Records, founded by Grammy-nominated artist and producer J. Cole, hosted its first ever festival last Saturday. It was an event unlike any other. It was warm out, the crowd was dense, and the ground was very muddy.

The two stages, “Rise” and “Shine” (cleverly named after the hit song off Cole's first studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story) were on opposite sides of the park and the acts were set to perform one right after the other at alternating stages. The first act was at Rise at 12 and the next was at Shine at 12:30. Needless to say, it was difficult for all 40,000 people to see every act they wanted to from a reasonable distance to the stage.

But there was just something about hearing SZA sing “20 Something” live while holding a fan’s wig in her hand, that made what felt like a thousand step journey from stage to stage worth it. There was an indescribable, emotional high in the air while watching J. Cole perform hits from his early mixtapes that made up for lost picnic blankets. Old songs like “Grown Simba” and “Back to the Topic” made his biggest fans lose themselves completely to the rarity of the moments. The big smile on Cole’s face as he spoke about how he was performing the songs for his own enjoyment was contagious. The mud didn’t seem as much of a nuisance, the crowd wasn’t overwhelming, and the exhaustion disappeared.

The festival began with short sets by Omen, Cozz, Lute, Earthgang, and a few other artists not represented by the record label like Rapsody and Saba. As the day went on the sets got a bit longer and fans were treated to the sounds of dreamy vocalists, Ari Lennox, Davido, and Teyana Taylor. The longest sets of the day were filled with the voices of Big Sean, 21 Savage, SZA, and of course, J. Cole.

Every artist on the lineup delivered a performance worth keeping your hands up for. The performers seemed to showcase their most authentic selves throughout the event. Teyana Taylor gifted festival attendees with the sight of her 1000 ab stomach as she milly rocked to her own music. SZA took a break between songs to dance it out with her fans as Meg Thee Stallion’s hit song, “Big Ol’ Freak,” blasted through the speakers. J.I.D. gave a shout out to a few fans that had climbed up the trees to get a better view of him. The overall warm mood of the day was further ignited by more precious moments between artists and fans and a reciprocated positivity.

Fans continuously expressed their satisfaction with the turnout as shown by Pamela Martinez, a J. Cole super fan who said, “Dreamville was such a fun experience, the line-up was strong and for his first time putting something like this together, Cole killed it.”

The acts also paid tribute to the late, great Nipsey Hussle. Taylor dedicated her hit “Gonna Love Me” to Nipsey and his wife Lauren London. Big Sean managed to get 40,000 people to be silent for one beautiful moment. In the final act, J. Cole also spoke emotionally about Nipsey’s impact on his community and the importance of appreciating what you have before it’s gone. He followed his words with a performance of a single off his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album, “Love Yourz,” that was paired with a video compilation of Nipsey.

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While J. Cole didn’t come out for his features with the other performing artists, he did bring out 21 Savage for their hit single, “a lot.” Cole also surprised guests with an appearance from Meek Mill who hyped up the crowd accordingly with “You Know,” “Going Bad,” and the title track off his 2012 album, Dreams and Nightmares.

As a whole, the Dreamville Festival exuded an energy that left no room for drama or negativity. “Being surrounded by so many people who share the same love and passion for hip hop was really dope,” said festival attendee Frank Guillen, 25.

No matter how tightly packed in the crowd you found yourself, people were kind and forgiving. Any discomfort or tiredness was healed by one great performance or another. Towards the end of the night, for a few magical minutes, all anyone cared about was following Cole’s orders to wrap their arms around their neighbors and sway along as he rapped, “No such thing as a life that’s better than yours.”

It turns out, Cole World is quite warm.

Lead Image Credit: Abraham Gonzalez / Dreamville Festival