Durham, North Carolina’s 5th Annual Art of Cool Festival brings an eclectic variety of prominent musical talents to the rising cultural hub in the middle of North Carolina.
The Art of Cool Festival is quickly becoming one of the premier music festivals on the east coast. Now in its fifth year, the festival highlights a talented roster of artists bringing their own unique style to a culturally trending North Carolina city. Durham, NC hosts the annual festival within it’s cozy downtown arts district lined with such beautiful venues as the Carolina Theatre, Durham Armory, Beyu Cafe, and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Durham is the home of Duke University, UNC, NC State, and NC Central and provides a diverse musical audience, and the Art of Cool Festival delivers for festival-goers from both far and near.
This years Art of Cool Festival headliners included: Erykah Badu, NAS, Maxwell, Anthony Hamilton, and Damien Escobar along with an excellent roster of musical talent including: Meshell Ndegeocello, Keyon Harrold, 9th Wonder, Dwele, Spinderella, Madison McFerrin, Vanessa Ferguson, Sango, Sons of Kemet Black Alley, Anna Wise, Freelance, Young Bull, Rahsaan Patterson, Iman Omari Little Brother, Terminator X, Priscilla Renee, Zoocru and Jus Once Band.
AOC’s weekend and day passes allow festival-goers the opportunity to pick and choose their own concert line-up schedule, with venues all within reasonable walking distance of each other creating an eclectic buzz throughout downtown Durham. Art of Cool is well organized and well executed providing the ultimate festival experience. They also give fans the opportunity to interact with their favorite artists through various meet & greet sessions and lectures.
Producer 9th Wonder was on hand to speak to the media about his upcoming projects and how he now teaches the foundations of hip-hop on multiple college campuses including Duke University. A native of Durham, 9th Wonder has amassed quite a catalog of his own with collaborations with Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Kendrick Lamar, and Robert Glasper just to name a few. He spoke of his deep connection to his hometown, and how no matter where he may be around the world – Durham will always be home. Later that night, 9th Wonder would be playing a packed Durham Armory alongside veteran DJ Spinderella. The two traded hip-hop classics back and forth in front of a packed Armory. One of the AOC Festival’s highlights was the last minute replacement for an absent Royce da 5’9″ with Durham’s own Little Brother with 9th Wonder. The historic set saw the group reunite after a long hiatus.
The Beyu Cafe has all the vibe and feel of a true jazz club. With delicious food and a regular line-up of amazing talent, the cafe served as a hub for many of AOC’s performances. Emerging vocalist Madison McFerrin dazzled the crowd with a stellar acappella set. Madison, is the daughter of Grammy award winning vocalist Bobby McFerrin. Her velvety voice is rich and her songs are created through a melodic blend of her own harmonizing vocals. Also performing live at Beyu Cafe, Carolina native Vanessa Ferguson. Ferguson, who was a finalist on The Voice, delivered a powerful set with a strong backing band leaving the crowd wanting more. Black Alley Band graced the Beyu Cafe for a late night blazing go-go set.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park served as the Art of Cool Festival’s main stage. Carolina native, Anthony Hamilton opened with a soulfully driven set along with his backing singers The Hamiltones. Veteran R&B singer Maxwell opened with a fitting tribute to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin before delivering an amazing set of hits as “Pretty Wings”, “Bad Habits”, and “Fortunate”. Closing the festival, hip-hop legend NAS delivered hit after hit to a packed Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Neo-soul Queen Erykah Badu brought the AOC Festival to a powerful close with a mesmerizing set of her many hits.
This year’s 5th Annual Art of Cool Festival has become one of the east coast’s most diverse and enriching festivals. It’s diverse and devoted fanbase can enjoy such a variety of talented musicians all over a few downtown blocks. Expect next year’s festival to grow in size due to the success of this year. Durham is setting a model trend for many other cities to follow by providing an art district and arts showcases such as the Art of Cool Festival.
Special thanks to Chelsey Bentley Holts and the amazing staff of AOC (“the cooligans”). You all did an amazing job of making Art of Cool a truly remarkable festival experience.
– Jamaal Bailey
-Photo / Video: Eric Bailey (Art Music Culture Life Media)