If J. Cole’s inaugural Dreamville Festival was a test for Dorothea Dix Park, consider it aced.
On Saturday, about 40,000 people flocked to the 308-acre park south of downtown for J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival, a day-long event that showcased some of the biggest stars of rap and hip-hop. But it also put a spotlight on Raleigh’s largest public park and its potential as a space for large-scale events.
On Monday, Raleigh officials called the festival a success, citing no major safety or medical issues and traffic within the city’s expectations for an event of that size.
“The city definitely had a great experience with Dreamville,” said Joseph Voska, program supervisor for Dix Park at a Monday afternoon press conference.
“One of the big attractive piece to the city of Raleigh, for why we decided to do Dreamville, is we wanted a test,” Voska said. “We wanted a test to see what this area of Raleigh, what Dix Park, with downtown Raleigh — how would it all come together? As future opportunities come up for the the city of Raleigh, how did we handle it? And what we’ve seen so far, we handled it pretty well.”
The event was produced by ScoreMore Shows, a Texas-based music promoter and event company that had a longstanding relationship with Cole. Cole grew up in Fayetteville and lives in Raleigh. He has said he wanted to give back to his home state by staing the event here.
Saturday’s biggest complaints were extremely long food vendor lines and jammed cell signals, and a bit of mud from the previous day’s downpour. One child was separated from its family but was reunited.
Voska said Dreamville officials were aware of the food truck lines, but deferred comment to them.
“Some things we’ll always learn from, how do we do things better, how do we make sure folks are getting on and off the property in an efficient way,” Voska said. “We’ll always learn from something like this, but overall the plans that went into place worked flawlessly.”
Following Friday’s rain and the foot traffic of thousands, the Big Field in Dix Park had been converted Monday into a few acres of soft mud. Voska said Dreamville planned for damages to the park and will reimburse Raleigh for any repairs to the festival areas, though that figure has not yet been set.
Sascha Stone Guttfreund, president of ScoreMore, talked to Billboard.com Saturday during the event and seemed blown away by the outcome. The event not only had two stages of major acts — like SZA, Big Sean and a surprise appearance by Meek Mill — but also plenty of art displays, a mini golf area and lawn space to just take it all in.
“I think whenever you’re a city, and you’re talking about people putting together an event of this magnitude, they’re nervous,” Guttfreund told Billboard. “So we take a lot of pride in what we do, and we spent three years showing up, talking to them and making them feel good about our plan. They entrusted us to do this, and I think the city is super happy about it.”
The Dreamville Festival was three years in the making and was originally scheduled for last September, but was postponed as Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina the week of the event. With the new date, organizers pledged the event would benefit hurricane victims through J. Cole’s Dreamville Foundation, as well as the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy. Voska said the amount raised for Dix Park has not yet been set.
Guttfreund told Billboard that 40,000 people never was the goal. But as tickets continued to sell at a brisk pace, without a lineup announced, a decision was made to go big. Organizers got the city’s permission last week to increase festival capacity. Voska said the capacity for future events will be part of upcoming Dix Park discussions. Moving 40,000 people will never be easy, Voska said.
“We saw almost 40,000 people on the field, that was a lot of people for Dix Park,” Voska said. “That’s something we’ll also go back and evaluate as well, the number we set, how do we think that worked, not only from what were on the field, but all the exterior details as well.”
As a showcase for Raleigh, city officials were interested in the geographical spectrum of Dreamville Festival attendees. Having tracked ticket sales, Voska said it was a global event, with people coming in from the West Coast, Europe, Africa, even Australia.
VisitRaleigh spokesman Scott Peacock said the city’s tourism group is still working to determine the overall economic impact of the festival, but that Dreamville officials have said 70 percent of those in the crowd came from outside North Carolina.
The Dix Park master plan was passed earlier this year, meant to guide the future use and development of the property. Dreamville was held in the largest open space in the park, which Voska said could hold future concerts and festivals, but noted an amphitheater is also part of the plan.
Monday, Voska focused his comments on Dix Park and what its future might look like, not committing the city to anything two days after Dreamville. But he said the door is open for it to return.
“There’s definitely an opportunity for us to evaluate if this will be an annual event for the city,” he said. “But we know Dreamville organizers are interested in being an annual event.”
From the stage Saturday night, Cole said he wants to bring the festival back to Raleigh for years to come.
Dreamville Records president Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad also spoke with Billboard, saying Saturday they haven’t “figured it out” what Dreamville will look like in the future — whether it would stay as a one-day event or even expand to two.
“But we do know we have to do something next year to keep the momentum going,” Hamad told Billboard. “I think it’s very easy to do great numbers one year at a festival and get too comfortable. I’ve seen a lot of festivals struggle with their second and third year and I don’t want to do that. So it’s going to be on us to get creative and keep people wanting to come back and not just rest on the fact that it’s Dreamville.”
Voska said the park’s future will be balanced, that its reputation as a concert venue won’t supersede its role as a municipal park for residents.
“It was just such a great opportunity, not only for Dorothea Dix Park, but the City of Raleigh to expose this beautiful gem to folks, nationally and internationally,” Voska said. “Now they’re going to go home and talk about this experience....We’re so excited it was so successful.”