Dreamville Festival 2022 Was a Family Reunion

The 2022 edition of J. Cole and Dreamville’s festival had a familial feel to it that’s rare at major music events. And it showed just how far the label has come

J. Cole Dreamville Festival 2022 performance

Image via Simon Chasalow / The Parallel Agency (@SIMONCHASALOW)

J. Cole Dreamville Festival 2022 performance

In theory, fandoms are supposed to feel like families, even if each of the individuals have nothing in common besides their shared love for the same artists. And this weekend, J. Cole’s second annual Dreamville Festival was a family reunion.

I’ve only been to North Carolina one other time in my life, for an actual family reunion. My great-grandmother was turning 100 years old, and to celebrate the occasion, the entire family on my dad’s side traveled to the state. I was young at the time, but I distinctly remember how warm it was—not just in temperature, but in spirit. The atmosphere at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh for Dreamville Festival was the same, and even with 40,000 attendees occupying the massive open field each day, there was still a familial spirit that’s rare at most major music festivals. 

As I walked through the giant park to take in the full scope of the event, people were lounging on the ground on picnic blankets, blowing bubbles into the sky near a Ferris wheel in the center of the field, and swinging peacefully from hammocks positioned across the grounds. At one moment during the two-day festival, my entire section joined in unison to sing happy birthday to a bartender. In another, Kehlani invited a member of the event staff on stage to let him sing for the masses, because she heard him practicing his vocals backstage. In general, the staff was very attentive to the crowd’s needs, making sure water bottles were being passed around regularly and checking that everyone was safe. It was hot during the day and freezing during the night on both Saturday and Sunday, but it didn’t mess with anyone’s mood. 

Lil Wayne and DJ Drama at Dreamville Festival 2022

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On Sunday night, while most of the music industry was in Las Vegas for the Grammys, the earth shook when J. Cole arrived to close out his own festival. “Who here is from Carolina?” he asked the audience, dragging his mic stand around the stage like the grim reaper with his scythe. Cloaked in a red and black flannel, Chicago Bulls-style Dreamers jersey, and “Chicago” Air Jordan 1s—which was an interesting choice, considering his deal with Puma—Cole clearly felt at home, delivering the most memorable performance of the weekend. After running through a gauntlet of hits from The Off-Season, he even played to his longtime followers in attendance and did some of his classic tracks like “Too Deep For The Intro” and the fan-favorite “Love Yours.” Later, the Dreamville roster joined him onstage to perform songs off of Revenge of the Dreamer 3, before Cole closed his set with “No Role Models.” As the festival came to an end, the crowd recited, “That Jada and that Will love,” in mass unison, for obvious reasons. 

Even the post-festival pour-out from the park was relatively calm and civil, as fans celebrated UNC beating Duke and seeing their GOAT on the same weekend. Even though I arrived in Raleigh by myself, I never felt alone. Maybe it was because of the Southern hospitality or the great weather, but I think what really makes Dreamville Festival special is the passionate and loyal fanbase that the label has cultivated over the past decade. 

Few labels show how much they genuinely enjoy each other’s company quite like Dreamville does. What started out as just a side project for Cole, consisting of Omen and Bas, has now evolved into a diverse roster of acts that are each carving out their own paths, while adding to the ‘Ville’s legacy. In 2022, they’ve grown to become the type of label that can drop a Gangsta Grillz tape the day before a festival, not really perform any songs off of it, and still have fans go home happy. The energy rubs off on the fandom, too, making 80,000 total people travel in droves from all over the country to see their adopted rap family again. Nothing about Dreamville Fest felt manufactured or contrived to appeal to some corporate giant, or to fill the artists’ pockets. Instead, it felt like a weekend made possible by Dreamers, for Dreamers.

Being able to pull off an annual music festival of this scale is a testament to how Dreamville’s music connects with people on a deeper level. That connection is what made Dreamville Fest a family affair.

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