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Sights and sounds at Dreamville Festival, 'a microcosm of the entire music scene'

Until recently, I’d never been to a music festival before. I’d been to a handful of concerts before COVID, but festivals are a whole different ball game. From the all-day performances to the abundant food options to the various other amenities, music festivals seemed to me to be a utopia where one could forget about their problems for a shining moment and watch their favorite artists perform. 

This weekend, Recess was given the opportunity to travel to Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, North Carolina to attend the Dreamville Music Festival. The festival was created by Dreamville Studios, a label founded by born-and-raised North Carolinian J. Cole, meant to provide his home state with a highly curated experience filled with local food and big-name performances. The festival has grown exponentially in recent years, ballooning to over 80,000 attendees, according to a press release from Dreamville. People all over the country ⁠— and the world — congregated in Raleigh for a celebration of live music.

As soon as I entered Dorothea Dix Park last Saturday, I saw swarms of people sitting around picnicking, taking pictures, in line for food and walking about the festival grounds. As I obtained my pass, I received along with it a city guide to Raleigh, filled with food, drink, coffee and shopping options for downtown Raleigh, along with detailed descriptions of each small business. Even though that pamphlet was more meant for tourists from outside North Carolina, I still plan on checking out several of the highlighted spots and am glad that these small businesses are getting such a highlight. Even at the festival, the food options were all courtesy of local street vendors, with nearly 50 food trucks spread out throughout the park. The lines to get food were extraordinarily long, but it was more than worth it when I stuffed my face with a pizza followed by deep-fried Oreos.

The aesthetics of the festival were top-notch as well. In between the two main stages of the event were large pop-up sets for those who wished to take photos. On the second day, a bright orange car parked in the center of the park with a long line filled with those who wanted to take pictures in it. The centerpiece of the park, however, was the large Ferris wheel that glowed neon colors at night. It was beautiful, even though my fear of heights prevented me from riding it. 

The highlight of the festival, though, was the performances. The lineup was star-studded, featuring many of Dreamville’s most popular acts along with many special guests. There was a list of artists I knew I had to see, and on the first day of the festival, JID topped that list. I have been a fan of his music for years and hearing him perform the songs I listened to in high school would have made me cry tears of joy five years ago. Another thing that made me happy was that JID brought out Mereba and Earthgang, whose performances I missed earlier in the day. Later in the day, Kehlani and Moneybagg Yo performed on both stages, and the night ended after Lil Baby took the stage. Unfortunately for me, though, I was a bit distracted by the Duke-UNC game, which was broadcasting at Dreamville at the same time.

After riding through the feels from Duke’s loss, I returned for day two which had a legendary lineup. Most notably, T-Pain took the stage in the early afternoon, wherein he sang his hits and also performed an unreleased song which I actually liked a lot. Afterwards, Wiz Khalifa and Ari Lennox performed back to back, though I had to use that time to wait in one of the longest lines in my life to buy my dinner. The final two performances were among the biggest at the festival, though. Just moments after he learned that he won a Grammy for his work on Tyler, the Creator’s “Call Me If You Get Lost,” DJ Drama took the stage with T.I., Jeezy and Lil Wayne, as they performed songs off their classic Gangsta Grillz mixtape, and Lil Wayne and T.I. squashed their beef. The night ended with a monumental J. Cole performance. In front of an entire sea of people, J. Cole performed his biggest hits from nearly every album. Near the end of his performance, he brought out most of the artists signed to Dreamville, as they all performed songs of “Revenge of the Dreamers III” together. Cole closed out the performance with “Middle Child” and “No Role Modelz” before he thanked the audience and concluded the festival.

Watching all the artists perform together made me thankful that I was able to witness such a celebration of culture and music within my home state. For a weekend, a microcosm of the entire music scene existed here for a weekend. Between the aesthetics of the park, the celebration of local businesses, the performances and the quality of the experience as a whole, it felt like I temporarily entered another world. 

In a press release, Dreamville declared that they plan on returning to Raleigh in spring 2023 after firmly cementing itself as one of the nation's largest artist-curated music festivals. I am glad that Dreamville was my first music festival, and I hope for the opportunity to come back next year and relive this experience all over again.

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