On Saturday (Apr. 6), Raleigh, N.C. welcomed hip-hop lovers across the country to J. Cole’s first-ever Dreamville Festival. The city’s largest park, Dorothea Dix Park, housed Cole and his all-star lineup from the early afternoon until 11 PM, and despite muddy conditions, fans flocked to the space to see the Dreamville mastermind alongside a slew of notable acts such as 21 Savage, SZA and Big Sean.
A festival that was postponed from last year due to the torrential winds of Hurricane Florence blossomed into an extraordinary feat for Cole, and the entire state of North Carolina.
“I think whenever you’re a city, and you’re talking about people putting together an event of this magnitude, they’re nervous,” Sascha Stone Guttfreund, president of promoter ScoreMore, 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.”
Since 2015, Cole, Guttfreund and Dreamville Records president Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad worked expeditiously in hopes of bringing North Carolina a festival it could call its own. Though the hurricane briefly derailed their goal last year, on Saturday, they exceeded expectations, citing a whopping 40,000 tickets sold. Billboard sat down with Hamad and Guttfreund during Dreamville Festival to discuss the process of putting together the festival, why North Carolina was their primary choice and what to expect for next year’s event.
Who called who first to make Dreamville Festival a reality?
Hamad: I honestly don’t even remember who called who first. I just know that we always wanted to do it. Sascha and ScoreMore were doing their own festival like JMBLYA, and we just spoke about it for years of when we could do this. And then we started working on an idea about three years ago. Sascha came down, and we went around Raleigh and Durham trying to find a place where it would all make sense. It took a while to get everybody and the city on-board.
I know the hurricane last year played a considerable role in delaying the festival, but why else did it take longer than expected?
Guttfreund: I think whenever you’re a city, and you’re talking about people putting together an event of this magnitude, they’re nervous. They wanna make sure, “Hey, listen. We just saw the Fyre Fest documentary,” and everybody’s worst nightmare is if you have an event to produce and they don’t know how to run it right, you put everybody’s safety in jeopardy. 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.
Fortunately, you guys didn’t have any cheese sandwiches out there.
Hamad: We ain’t got the cheese sandwiches, but we thought about adding some cabanas or some villas. [Laughs]
Is it crazy to watch how many people attended the festival in its first year?
Hamad: When we first spoke about this, our first budget was for 10,000 people. We didn’t have this area first, but even when we got it, we were like, “Maybe we can do 20,000 people and block it off the right way.” And then, before the hurricane, we were going to hit 30,000. Then, the hurricane happened. So you don’t know if people are going to come back. I for sure didn’t think 40,000.
Guttfreund: It was about ten days ago when I called IB, and I said, “Yo. This thing is out of here.”
Hamad: We didn’t know we were going to hit 40 until last week.
I remember it was slated at 35.
Hamad: That was the number I was going for.
Guttfreund: We have all this historical data on how many tickets you sell per day based on how many days out from the festival you are and on an average per day what you get. The amount of data after doing these festivals for a while is crazy. So when you start seeing 200, 300 tickets a day and we didn’t have the line-up out…
Hamad: Yeah! When we announced the lineup, and we did like 1500 tickets that day, I was like, “Oh, this shit is about to take off.”
Year 1. 40,000…. I do want to make one thing clear. none of this is attainable without the people that make it all happen, and it ain’t me. Since 2010 we have built a business with a group of people that are the family we’ve chosen. I could go on and on with all the people who make this possible but hey… To the team working every day in that office to make these events come to life.. billing is a funny thing for festival promoters so I’m gonna go ahead and list by office…. gina, lexie, carisa, lucas, ed, celeste, katie, grant, madisyn, bobby, pha, claire, jason, connor, zach, joel, brent, collyn, Brad +BWEG, Em + BWG, Trey, and the hundreds of other individuals who join us to make this possible. This thing does not exist without the family at Dreamville… Cole, Ib, Adam, KC, Gibbs, Elijah, Matty, Felton, Scott, D, Ced and the rest of the squad. I’m blessed to be surrounded by truly special people. grateful for you all. — @gregnoire
What were the initial conversations like with Cole about wanting to bring this festival back to his home state of North Carolina?
Hamad: Cole always wanted to do it. It wasn’t like I had this incredible idea and I just went to him. It was conversations that we all had. Me, Cole and Sascha all have great relationships where we’ll all talk, and I think it was when we did the Forest Hills Drive Tour and before we went out on the Amphitheater Tour. We did small rooms, like 1000-cap rooms we knew were going to sell out in seconds, and Sascha was our promoter for a few of those. Obviously, he had those cities that we worked with him in and just seeing how we can work directly with him, it went smooth. We’re like, “Okay, maybe this can become something bigger.”
So I think we were all on the same page. That’s what planted the seeds back in, like, February 2015. And of course, Cole is from here, and the Dreamville brand started from North Carolina, and it made sense. But we always said this was just a great market. So to be able to be the first to have something like this is incredible.
Guttfreund: I think IB deserves so much credit because from the very, very beginning, he kept saying just that, which is that this is just a real, real market. Obviously, the Dreamville brand was going to amplify that and get it to a certain platform, but this is just a great market that’s untapped. I think this festival has so much growth ahead of it and I think we’re going to be able to get creative on how this thing is booked in the future. I mean, to do 40,000 year-one, that’s unheard of.
A lot of artists are putting together their own festivals now. Was there one in particular that you guys tried to emulate when coming into this process?
Hamad: For us, the heavy lifting is obviously on Sascha and his team because we have a vision of what we want to do and how we want it to look. Then, Sascha and his team would be like, “That doesn’t make sense, or that makes sense.” Then, they’ll add their vision to our vision. After that, we come together, and we have an idea of what we want because these guys are running with the best of them. They do JMBLYA every year, and they just did [Travis Scott’s festival] Astroworld. They do [festivals] at a very high level. So then it becomes them executing, us just trusting their input and seeing the outcome.
Sascha, being an expert at putting together festivals, what were some challenges that you faced with this one in comparison to ones that you worked on in the past?
Guttfreund: One, it’s a city park. When you’re talking about a city park, obviously, it’s on grass, and you’ve seen because of the rain, it’s different than when you do something in the parking lot, right? Because you can’t do damage to concrete. In a grass situation, it’s different. I think that was a challenge and just working around the logistics of it being in a city park.
Also, with it being the first event ever taking place here and we’re from Texas. We do a lot of festivals in Texas, so it’s very easy for city officials to call one another and say, “Hey, do they know what they’re doing?” With this being our first thing in North Carolina, I think we had to go and prove ourselves. But again, this city is so stoked, and they’ve been great to work with that they just made us work hard to get there and to get that trust.
What was the recruiting process for the acts?
Hamad: We had an idea of who we wanted. So me and Cole would think about who we want, they would tell us who we think we should get and then, it’s just a lot of times asking favors. You know, people see like 40,000 tickets, and they don’t realize we didn’t plan on 40,000 tickets. So for a while, we thought we were in the red. Just the fact a lot of people did us some good favors and made sure that they worked with us, I think that’s what helped make festivals like this incredible. It was also us making sure we had a variety. Like, I love Davido just as a fan. So I’m like, “Okay, Raleigh probably hasn’t seen that. Let’s try to bring that.” Rapsody is from here. Saba is one of my favorite rappers. Cole would be like, “I gotta make sure Rapsody and [King] Mez are on the bill because that’s their hometown.” But that’s just how it goes.
Because of the overwhelming success, have you guys already spoken about extending Dreamville Fest to a weekend in the future, as opposed to a one-day festival?
Hamad: I think we just got to let this play out and see how this goes. I think everybody collectively already is thinking like, “Okay, we got next year coming up. How do we keep this thing exciting?” Maybe it’s not for two days. Maybe it’s still one day. Maybe it’s less acts. Maybe it’s more acts. Maybe it’s adding a stage. We just haven’t figured it out, but we do know we have to do something next year to keep the momentum going. 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.