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Thousands flood Raleigh to see Drake, J. Cole, Usher at 2023 Dreamville Festival


J Cole headlines Dreamville Festival on April 2, 2023 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh.

Last weekend, over 50,000 people crowded Raleigh's Dorothea Dix Park, waiting in anticipation for the Dreamville Festival's Sunday night headliners — J. Cole and Drake.

Some camped out as early as noon that day, sitting out on blankets for roughly nine hours to see the most awaited musical acts of the event.

In addition to artists advertised in the lineup ahead of the show, Drake brought Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Wayne and 21 Savage on stage during his performance on Sunday night as surprise guest acts.

Dreamville Festival, put on by rapper J. Cole’s record label of the same name, claims to be “one of the most anticipated annual events in the state of North Carolina," according to its website. 

The event is renowned for bringing popular rap, hip hop and R&B music acts to the Triangle. 

“It’s amazing,” Jasmin Gonzalez, an attendee who traveled from California to go to the festival, said. “It’s a dream come true. I love how organized it is.”

City Girls perform at Dreamville Festival on April 1, 2023 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh.

Gonzalez, who said she has been to many local festivals in her home state, said Dreamville is easily the best she's ever been to. She said she was mainly drawn to the event to see J. Cole.

Various other hip-hop, R&B and rap artists performed, with Usher headlining the first night. 

Other major artists rotated between two stages — one called “Rise” and the other called “Shine” — on opposite sides of the park. 

Aside from the musical acts, vendors were scattered across the greens, some for food and others for beauty supplies and even a pop-up massage parlor. There were also art murals that visitors could pose in front of and a light-up ferris wheel.

In light of the Astroworld Festival tragedy in 2021, safety was a particular priority at Dreamville Festival. 

According to its website, plain-clothed and uniformed security were present throughout the festival's grounds. Visitors were also subject to "airport-style" searches prior to entry. The website reminded visitors to drink water with its free hydration stations. Staff members also passed out plastic bottles of water to the crowd and several performers reminded fans to hydrate. 

Medics stood on scaffolding towers to scan the crowd in order to direct EMTs to anyone in need of medical assistance.

A paramedic stands on a scaffolding tower nearby a stage at Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, N.C., to direct medical attention to someone in the crowd.

On Saturday, the festival was postponed for several hours due to inclement weather. On Sunday night, J. Cole's and Drake’s performances were postponed to deal with a medical emergency in the crowd.

While some visitors, such as Kayla McPherson, a UNC sophomore and a guard on the women's basketball team, said they appreciated the creativity of the two-stage setup, others said it provided logistical challenges.

Cameron Myers Milne, a senior at UNC, said she and her friends had to choose which acts to see, sacrificing the opportunity to see one artist for another across the grounds. 

She added that the layout was not very accessible and likely posed challenges to visitors with disabilities.

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Additionally, Dreamville saw a diverse crowd over the weekend.

Usher headlines Dreamville Festival on April 1, 2023 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh.

“Usually, I’ve been to concerts where it’s just one race dominantly,” 25-year-old Ciara Parker, who traveled to Dreamville from South Carolina, said. “But I see a mix of a lot of people, and I didn’t realize that so many people of different races or ethnic and cultural backgrounds listen to the same people that I listen to. So, that was cool.”

Milne said she had never been to Dreamville Festival before this year, but was convinced to give it a try by her friends who had. She said her favorite part of the event was hearing the crowd of over 50,000 attendees sing along with J. Cole to his song “No Role Modelz” to close out the festival.

“I’m still processing (it), definitely, but I would recommend it if someone has the opportunity to go,” Milne said. “I just wonder what they’re going to do next year. How do you move forward from that?”

Editor's Note: Milne is a former staff member of The Daily Tar Heel.

View of Shine Stage and surrounding crowd at Dreamville Festival on April 1, 2023 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh.


@DTHCityState | 

Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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