Washington D.C.'s young, grassroots hip-hop scene earned a lot of praise last year for putting on the one-day Trillectro festival, which drew more than 5,000 fans without the benefit of corporate sponsors or nationally known headliners. This year's festival, held at the D.C. Half Street Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 17, involved a bigger marketing campaign and bigger headliners, including A$AP Ferg, who brought along surprise guests from his crew, including West Baltimore native A$AP Ant and national hip-hop megastar A$AP Rocky. But the youth-centric, DIY vibe of Trillectro held up. At the end of the day, one fan was overheard saying, "Trillectro is like the East Coast Coachella."
It was a notable reference, considering that Trillectro was largely inspired by the West Coast indie rock-focused event.
Trillectro was founded by D.C. bloggers and promoters under the leadership of 26-year-old Modele Oyewole, better known as Modi. In internet-rap circles, Modi is considered a visionary for his highly interactive blog, DCtoBC, which was a destination for many college-aged hip-hop fans in the late 2000s.
Through that blog, which Modi started while attending Boston College as a way to create conversation about his favorite music, Modi met other D.C. natives looking to attend concerts featuring their favorite artists once they returned home from college.
"We were really amazed by Coachella last year," Modi says, sitting outside of D.C.'s Howard Theatre two days before Trillectro 2013. "The positive energy and people being so happy because of music was something we'd never seen before. After witnessing that, we said to each other, 'Why can't we do this in D.C.?' And since that experience, we've been putting Trillectro together."
The first festival, in 2012, went smoothly despite a few missteps (jerky hired security and confused staff members, in particular): Most sets went off as scheduled, kids from all over the East Coast came, and there were no major fights. Artists like Tabi Bonney, Flatbush Zombies, and Schoolboy Q, when not performing, walked around the festival, interacting with their audience. Baltimore hip-hop heads, in particular, headed south in droves.
"We don't have this type of stuff in Baltimore," said Ryan Lyons, a Baltimore photographer and writer. "Just the fact that this is happening within an hour of the city makes me really happy, and local artists should try to soak up as much as possible, even if they're not performing."
This past weekend, Trillectro 2013 got tighter. In addition to A$AP Ferg, internet favorites like King Chip, Travi$ Scott, Nadastrom, and Casey Veggies, along with D.C. locals Shy Glizzy, Fat Trel, and Tittsworth all took the stage. A$AP Ant, a surprise guest, was the only Baltimore artist present, though most DJs that performed Saturday played some variation of Baltimore Club.
D.C. native and rap star Wale was listed as a special guest but instead of performing, came to the stage to support the festival. D.C. mayor Vincent Gray also took the stage to show his support, particularly for Trillectro's positive effect on the city's youth culture.
"Dude, I'm gonna lose my dick when Ferg goes on," one bro reeking of cheap booze screamed as he waited for the headliner to start. Travi$ Scott, a protege of Kanye West, had the most control over the crowd as he instructed people to mosh and had a few near-disaster fights with security onstage after continuously screaming "Fuck security!" throughout his set. Things got especially insane when A$AP Ferg introduced A$AP Rocky to perform their hits together, like "Work" and "Shabba." A sea of thousands of people jumped up and down for the festival's final three hours.
Trillectro 2013 still had its mishaps: Security still seemed to be an issue, and lines for the festival wrapped around Half Street, a lot of people complained on Twitter about being in line for two hours while some were told by staff that the venue had reached capacity, even though they'd already purchased tickets.
Still for every complaint, there were several raves for Trillectro.
"This year is more about, did people have fun?," says Modi. "Did we leave a good impression on them? And are they saying good things online?"