I was disappointed when I finally left the Half Street Fairgrounds in Southeast D.C. on Saturday night. Not because the highly-anticipated Trillectro sequel had fallen short of its lofty expectations, but because it was over. Like thousands of other people, I had been impatiently waiting for its return since the follow-up to last year's groundbreaking event was announced in February. After headliner DJ Carnage's party of a closing set wrapped, the droves of attendees exited the venue, returning to their regular lives. It was like those last few hours of Christmas Day when it finally hits you that the magic is over.
However, as I stared at the mass of people that had congregated in the streets and the police who weren't pressed to clear the area, I fully grasped the magnitude of Trillectro's success and what it means for the District of Columbia. This was a game changer.
From the White House Correspondent's Dinner, to the National Cherry Blossom Festival and Howard University's Homecoming, D.C. is well-known for events that attract people from all over the country annually. This weekend, Trillectro took a confident leap towards joining that league.
An 80 degree day with zero humidity is pretty much unheard of for August in D.C., but it made for perfect festival weather. That alone made Trillectro 2.0 exceptional, but its true triumph was its ability to provide something for everyone. By crafting a lineup consisting of hip-hop and EDM artists, the DC to BC team created a near anomaly for the area: An event appealing to two audiences that blessed the crowd with two stages simultaneously playing music. There were some people who only attended for the hip-hop acts; they were satisfied. Others were there for the sole purpose of feeling the non-stop pulse of EDM; they were also taken care of. Anyone with an affinity for both genres got the best of both worlds.
The organizers deserve credit for expanding on what worked last year and making necessary tweaks. For example, the Karmaloop stage replaced last year's Redbull Music Academy truck, giving the festival a legitimate second stage. The vendors, the sponsors, and even the improved signage all speak to the festival's evolution. From sponsors to volunteers, more people expressed interest in getting involved this time around. And, with more eyes on the event, the stakes were higher.
Roughly 4,000 people attended Trillectro last year, so a bigger crowd was expected in the wake of its acclaim. Twitter was buzzing all week long with people announcing plans to travel to D.C.; media and music fans alike came from far and wide for the experience. Furthermore, respected local philanthropist Tony Lewis, Jr., Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, Mayor Vincent Gray and viral sensation Terio were all in attendance. From the White House Correspondent's Dinner, to the National Cherry Blossom Festival and Howard University's Homecoming, D.C. is well-known for events that attract people from all over the country annually. This weekend, Trillectro took a confident leap towards joining that league.
Though the lineup included national acts like A$AP Ferg, Salva, DJ Sliink and Travi$ Scott, one of the festival's foremost goals is promoting local talent. Misun, Shy Glizzy, Alex Young and Phil Ade all performed earlier in the day, and California native Casey Veggies brought singer Raheem Devaughn out during his set for a moment of bicoastal musical unity. Fat Trel, rumored to have signed with MMG and Roc Nation, exploded onto the stage for a brief performance of "Respect With The Tech." It was a perfectly timed promo for the burly rapper, who dropped his SDMG mixtape yesterday. Then, as the sun set, Wale took the stage in his hometown for the first time since his third album, The Gifted, topped the Billboard 200 in July.
Often at odds with the area that raised him, Wale used the opportunity to praise the entire local hip-hop scene before performing a portion of "Nike Boots," his 2007 metaphorical denouncement of the crab mentality that at times plagues the scene. In the song's opening bars, he announces his goal to unify the DMV area. There's still work to be done, but it was an approriate musical selection considering the criticism he gets for not doing enough for the area. He still got flak for not giving a full performance, though he was not contracted to actually perform, hence the "special guest" billing. Sometimes you can't win everyone over, even when you're winning.
Despite drawing between 7,000 and 8,000 people, there were problems on Saturday. As the Fairgrounds began to fill up, a remarkably long line formed, wrapping all the way around Half Street. Hundreds of ticketholders waited in line for hours, only to be told they wouldn't be allowed inside because of the Fire Marshal's orders. Some resorted to cutting the line just to make it into the venue.
Regardless of the turnout, DC to BC co-founder Modele "Modi" Oyewole remains haunted by the hundreds of ticketholders who were denied entry. "It's crazy because they made us who we are," Oyewole said of the DC to BC faithful who have followed the brand since its days as a radio show. He promised that everyone who was not permitted to enter that purchased advanced tickets will be refunded.
He also shared a specific piece of feedback from someone who said being turned away "ruined [their] day." "She basically missed experiences, and we're all about memories and experiences. We can't give those back," he revealed. "Maybe it's a birthday, maybe it's a picture with some friends. You weren't able to be a part of that and that's what hurts us the most. Even if they get their money back, you can't give them that time they spent or that anticipation back. I know people that came from Toronto that couldn't get in; [people who came from] Atlanta that couldn't get in. Regardless of the success that people called Trillectro, we're not happy until we figure out a way to rectify the situation."
One obvious move seems to be selecting a larger location that's better equipped to accomodate a crowd that will surely grow again next year. Still, it's comforting to know that DC to BC is more concerned with perfecting Trillectro than basking in the compliments. That focus on their audience and improving their brand is part of why they've been able to translate a loyal following into success in a constantly changing climate.
A drive down Northwest 14th Street is an exhibition of D.C.'s rapid change. Plenty has been made of the "gentrification overdrive" the city has experienced over the past five years, but D.C.'s status as a cultural epicenter is evolving. It may not have the reputation of New York, Los Angeles, or even Atlanta, but it's morphing into something new. Trillectro is part of that transition, helping D.C. establish an identity away from Capitol Hill. From the media to the mayor, first-timers to lifelong D.C. residents, everyone was present on Saturday. It was more than a festival—it was a summit.
Comparisons to Lollapalooza, Coachella or Summer Jam may be premature, but Trillectro is knocking on the door of meaning to D.C. what Summer Jam means to New York City. Trillectro welcomed local artists hoping to grace one of the stages next year, interns looking for a final turn-up before departing D.C. and shameless bench-top twerkfests during A$AP Ferg's set that got even more reckless when A$AP Rocky appeared. The latter was Trillectro's apex and served as an unofficial album release party (his debut album, Trap Lord, is out today) for the Harlem rapper—in D.C.
By providing something that different demographics could dig into comfortably, Trillectro graduated from a word-of-mouth triumph to a must-attend, outdoor convention with live music and a reach extending from the South to beyond the Canadian border. That's the main objective of the festival: Taking extremes and finding a common ground. That's the future, a future everyone should be excited about.
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