Dreamville Festival: A Recap

Dreamville Festival entryway at Dorothea Dix Park on April 6

It was all a dream…until it became a reality.

Basses dropped. Fans screamed. Mud sploshed. Microphones blared with the music of 19 incredible artists. These were the sounds I experienced throughout the first-ever Dreamville Festival at Dorothea Dix Park on April 6. 

First of all, how amazing is it that J. Cole chose Raleigh, our home, as the location for this festival, bringing fans from out of the state, and even out of the country, to the City of Oaks?

If you had told me when I first moved here four years ago that J. Cole and 18 other famous rappers and hip-hop artists would perform live just 15 minutes away from my house, I would’ve said you were crazy.

After all, though, it was a crazygood experience. Walking through the entryway emblazoned with the festival’s signature logo and pink clouds on a blue backdrop, I felt as if I walked into another world, one made up of cheerful, untroubled, diverse fans who all came together to enjoy the same artists in one place.

J. Cole assembled an impressive lineup of well-known names, and some I’d never heard of before, to take the two stages—Rise and Shine—throughout the afternoon and into the night. Artists included Omen, Earthgang, Nelly, SZA, 21 Savage and Big Sean, to name just a few, with the final performance from J. Cole himself.

Each artist brought a renewed energy to the festival, delivering hits that longtime fans screamed the lyrics to, and new, never-before-heard songs that generated even more enthusiasm. Even while standing in the long concessions lines, fans danced along to the music pumping through speakers throughout the grounds.

By the time J. Cole appeared on stage around 11 p.m., it seemed as if all 40,000 people who bought tickets to the festival were crowded into one area in front of the Shine stage. It didn’t feel annoyingly packed in but more like I was part of an experience I could share only with this select group of people.

Before J. Cole began his set, he asked for the spotlights to be dimmed so he could take in the diverse crowd of people that had gathered together to watch him perform. He seemed in awe of the number of fans who came out to see him, reminiscing about his days before fame.

J. Cole’s set mixed popular hits and classics, while the crowd sang, swayed, jumped and raised arms in unison. At that point, I think it was the fans who were in awe.

The next day, with J. Cole’s setlist still playing on repeat in my head, I talked to Omen, a Chicago-based rapper, about what he thought of Dreamville Festival, which, he says, to put it frankly, “was a lot.”

“It was definitely amazing, but it felt like a culmination of a lot of emotions. Just because it’s nice that we’re getting attention and recognition now, it took a lot of years in the making to even get to this point where we’re on someone’s radar.”

Omen, who’s known J. Cole since he was 17 and J. Cole was 15, remembers when J. Cole first came up with the idea of the festival, a dream that took years to turn into a reality.

“It’s a good example for all of us in the label that if you really believe in yourself, you really believe in your vision and you put the work in, these things are possible,” says Omen.

That same dreamer mentality was clearly bestowed on all the fans who attended, especially us Raleighites who may have never expected Omen, J. Cole or any of the other performers to play in a music festival on this scale in our home city. 

Says Omen, “It means a lot for, not only us, but the city and just the culture of hip-hop to know even a market that people may look at as maybe smaller has something to offer.”

Dreamville 2020, we’re ready for you.