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Dreamville Festival brings national audience to local stage

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SZA sings atop a wrecking ball during her set at Dreamville Festival in Raleigh on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

A couple songs into his set at Dreamville Festival on Saturday, rapper Lil Yachty hyped the crowd up, commenting that the SZA fans up front were tired and they "couldn't hang with the Boat fans." It was six hours into the first day of the two-day music festival, and there were still over two hours left before SZA took the stage for the last show of the night.

But the crowd disagreed. Even after standing for hours, they were screaming the lyrics and jumping to the beat for every minute of the weekend’s hip-hop and R&B lineup — one featuring headliners SZA, 50 Cent, J. Cole and Nicki Minaj. 50 Cent was a last-minute addition after original performer Chris Brown dropped out due to unforeseen circumstances. 

Dreamville's festivities start even before the music.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Raleigh’s “Dreamville Festival Week” included a stand-up comedy showcase, adult game night and yoga with Olu of hip-hop duo EarthGang, who performed on Saturday.  

Charities like the North Carolina Black Alliance and Heal Charlotte set up booths near the entrance of Dorothea Dix Park, which was transformed for the weekend. And the two stages — which alternated performances throughout the afternoon and evening — were surrounded by a ring of food and drink vendors. 

The process to make it as a Dreamville food vendor is rigorous. Favor Desserts, a bakery in Durham, was previously rejected to become a vendor, and when they were finally accepted for the first time last year, the bakery’s owner Keijuane Hester called it their big break. 

This year, Hester created a new cake for the festival — the "Dreamer Cake" — which is four alternating layers of strawberry and strawberry/vanilla marble cake with strawberry buttercream between layers and strawberry crunch on the sides of the cake. 

Hester said coming to Dreamville is a great way to increase exposure for the business.

“It has impacted us tremendously because, first of all, we get to vend at a high-end festival like Dreamville where there’s going to be hundreds or thousands of people,” he said. “And this allows our brand to be able to be on a huge platform.”

Tiffanie Viverette, a junior at UNC Charlotte, attended Dreamville for the first time this year. Despite being from North Carolina, Viverette said she believes that the festival has a much broader appeal.

“I think it’s really well known outside [of North Carolina] just because the communication, the sponsors — everyone talks about it,” Viverette said. “I found out about it two years ago because of a friend that goes to Florida.”

Viverette was most excited to see SZA. She had been waiting there for hours, squished between a group of Duke students and a SZA superfan who screamed before SZA even made her entrance.  

Some highlights from her set — which was almost two hours long — included a sword routine before her hit song “Kill Bill” and moments sitting on a wrecking ball during “Low.” 

Leading up to the performance, the audience came committed to every artist — even when they didn’t know the words, they were more than willing to put their hands up and cheer for the non-headlining artists like Luh Tyler and Teezo Touchdown. 

SZA was also a highlight for UNC first-year Sarah Maness. This is her second year at Dreamville, and she said she would go again. This year, she went with a group of friends that she ran into by accident at the festival the year before. 

“I definitely think knowing more people makes it feel a little more intimate and more of a Raleigh-based community thing,” Maness, a Raleigh native, said. “But for every person that I did know there were 10,000 people I didn't, so it still feels really big, nationwide.”

Dreamville only seems to get more well-known every year, Hester said, and he said he appreciated the revenue and exposure it brings to Raleigh, especially from out-of-town attendees.

Last year, the City of Raleigh reported that the festival had a total economic impact of $145.9 million and provided the equivalent of over 1,300 full-time jobs.  

“It’ll make you want to come back next year and bring somebody and spread the word,” Hester said. “So you know, I think it's only gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger from here.”


@dthlifestyle |

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