September has long been the Triangle’s prime season for outdoor festivals, especially in downtown Raleigh — where the streets are blocked off pretty much every weekend of the month.
The festivals are a draw for tourists as well as residents. They’re a chance to showcase the city and bring in money, and local officials cite them as highlights of the area’s quality of life.
And if you’re a fan of music, well, September is your month, thanks to the weeklong Bluegrass Festival and the Hopscotch Music Festival.
But this year, September will be even more crowded as two more festivals join the lineup: J. Cole’s inaugural Dreamville Festival in Dix Park, and Durham’s Art of Cool.
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While they’re not in downtown Raleigh, the additions may compete for attendance, hotel rooms, advertisers and dollars from those with only so much ticket money to spend.
The lineup’s major players include:
▪ Hopscotch Music Festival (Sept. 6-8) — The ninth edition of this alternative-slanted festival features Miguel, Flaming Lips and Nile Rodgers’ Chic. Bands play clubs, Red Hat Amphitheater and City Plaza on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.
▪ Dreamville (Sept. 15) — The new kid in town, a one-day festival at Dix Park booked and presented under the auspices of J. Cole. The Grammy-nominated platinum rapper from Fayetteville is expected to perform, but the lineup has yet to be announced.
▪ World of Bluegrass (Sept. 25-29) — The biggest of them all, drawing more than 200,000 people to events across downtown. This will be the sixth year in Raleigh, with shows from small clubs up to Red Hat. It was recently extended through 2021 in Raleigh.
▪ Art of Cool (Sept. 28-29) — For its fifth year, this celebration of jazz, hip-hop and various shades of blues has moved from its regular spring timeframe to the same weekend as the bluegrass festival. It’s in Durham, though, and shouldn’t compete with downtown Raleigh traffic. Nas, Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton and other mainstage acts will perform at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Throw in September’s other big street-festival events in Raleigh — SPARKcon (Sept. 13-16), Capital City Bikefest (Sept. 21-23) and Fiesta del Pueblo (Sept. 23) among them — and some may wonder whether we’re approaching overload.
“We’ll see,” said Hopscotch director Nathan Price. “All the other festivals haven’t really affected us in any noticeable way other than how the city pays attention and how crazy it gets downtown. But it’s different audiences between us, Dreamville and bluegrass. Art of Cool is the one I’m not sure about, how it will fit into all this. But they’re in Durham, anyway.”
Management for both Dreamville and Art of Cool had their reasons for moving to September, and the events are geared toward different audiences. In other words, there should be enough for everyone.
Dreamville producer Adam Rodney said organizers have spent two years on behind-the-scenes planning, considering a range of dates as well as locations before settling on back-to-school season and Dix Park.
“We wanted to make sure all the students would be back at Shaw, UNC, NC State, Duke,” said Rodney. “We considered a lot of cities, too. Cole’s hometown of Fayetteville, Durham, even farms here and there. But being the first big music festival at Dix, and with the mayor onboard, we couldn’t pass that up.”
Capacity has yet to be determined. Rodney said that plans are for Dreamville to return as an annual event.
As for Art of Cool, it’s in reinvention mode with new ownership. After being a non-profit its first four years, the festival entered the for-profit ranks when Detroit-based The DOME Group LLC bought it in March.
DOME is an entertainment company that primarily presents events in North Carolina and Detroit, where it operates 6,000-seat Chene Park Amphitheatre. But owner Sulaiman Mausi has deep ties to the area and is a graduate of NC Central University.
The move to September put some distance between the festival and Radio One’s annual springtime Women’s Empowerment seminar, which Mausi said tends to be a focus for the radio stations that Art of Cool hopes to attract as sponsors. The new dates also coincide with Durham’s Black Wall Street Homecoming that weekend.
Despite the September confluence of music festivals, Mausi thinks it will be possible for all of them to prosper and even grow.
“From our view, we don’t think there’s a conflict at all,” Mausi said. “We believe the area and North Carolina in particular has a lot of musical tastes and different demographics. We believe there’s room for everybody.
“We’re excited about this,” he added. “It’s definitely a huge undertaking. We hope the community gets involved and people show up. We want to grow Art of Cool as big as any other festival around the country.”