Dreamville Festival Is a World Class Concert — but Here in Raleigh, It’s a Whole Season, Too

With programming that celebrates Black artistry, founders J. Cole and Adam Roy have built more than a festival.
By Courtney Napier | photographs by Samantha Everette

Dreamville Music Festival is its own season in Raleigh. For us, it’s no longer an isolated two-day event at Dorothea Dix Park. As the festival has continued to grow, Dreamville has expanded beyond the park’s borders, descending upon the City of Oaks with an entire week of unique and exciting reasons to celebrate.

The inaugural Dreamville Fest happened in April of 2019 (the very first attempt, in September 2018, was rescheduled due to Hurricane Florence). Locals still talk about the first concert’s lineup and activations — the single-day show was heavy on musicians from North Carolina, and featured several installations from Triangle artists organized through Artsplosure. But as the festival has grown, the names on the lineup have skewed toward national (even international) acts, and many of the on-site activations have gained advertiser sponsorship.  Today, the now two-day Dreamville Music Festival is still the main event, but the city-wide parties, panels and pop-ups have turned into their own celebration of Raleigh’s unique flavor of Black artistry. 

In a release leading up to the show, Dreamville Cofounder and Festival President Adam Roy said it best: “Raleigh has embraced Dreamville Festival from the start, which is why our team is so excited to continue expanding the festival’s local impact beyond just the weekend dates. Our team looks forward to… offering even more free programming for the locals and fans who come to visit Raleigh from around the world this spring.”

Not only is the programming free, but most of it is geared toward Raleighites of all ages. Dreamville has provided an exceptional opportunity for families with older children to bond around the music and culture that they both love in an environment where everyone feels welcome.

One of these signature events is called Public Access. Held at CAM Raleigh for the second year in a row, and hosted by Dreamville, EngineEars and Amazon Music, it was  a day-long program featuring panels and keynote discussions with creatives, music producers and industry leaders.

One stand-out discussion, hosted by manager-turned-media personality Complex Wayno, was with the incomparable Rapsody. The Grammy-nominated hip-hop lyricist hailing from Snow Hill is a NC State grad and has proudly represented her North Carolina roots throughout her career (she performed at the very first Dreamville, of course). In support of her upcoming album, Please Don’t Cry (out May 17th), Rapsody spoke to a crowded room of fans about her creative process, her hopes for the music industry, and the joys and challenges of life in the spotlight. At one point, Wayno asked Rapsody how being such a revered lyricist effects her tastes in music. She replied, “People like to put you in a box and say, ‘Since you make this music, this is the only place that you exist.’ I am a full human being! I listen to everything! My music just reflects the stories that I want to tell based on the experiences I’ve had. But I appreciate other people’s experiences, too! ” Rapsody’s message about loving your own unique expression, desires, and point of view were central to her interview, and the audience was inspired by her open, candid, storytelling.

Just outside of CAM was the Gold Mouf Lounge, a Dreamville-themed block party with a vintage car show, DJ battles, stunning art installations and local business vendors. The hard automobile aesthetic was elevated by oversized foam flowers hand-sculpted by Atlanta-based artist Alina Zadorozhna. Two years ago, the Ukraine War destroyed the art studio she had owned for eight years, leaving her with nothing. Now a refugee, she has rebuilt her life and her artistic practice in the United States. A chance meeting at a local event just a week before Dreamville turned into this opportunity. 

Alina and her team worked overtime on what became one of the most popular installations of the day, with hundreds of partygoers taking selfies and group photos in front of the giant flowers. Grateful for the opportunity to share her art and story at Dreamville, Alina hopes to inspire other women to build their own businesses and make their dreams come true: “Even if you lose everything, just keep going because anything is possible!”

J. Cole and Roy’s vision for Dreamville was always much bigger than a concert. These artists wanted to show their love for the city that nurtured their lives and the culture that inspired music — and the events around the festival have become Cole’s love letter to his first, and greatest, fans. 

This article originally appeared on April 22, 2024.