“This isn’t a regular festival”: Something in the Water wraps up with an estimated 30,000 attendees despite weather
Britny Barfield rarely visited the Virginia Beach oceanfront even though she lives in nearby Portsmouth.
In 2019, when Pharrell Williams announced the first-ever SITW festival, she took a chance on the 3-day festival.
Now she’s a part of the SITW Cousins, an unofficial festival fan club, and bought passes for the entire weekend when Pharrell announced he was bringing it back to Virginia Beach.
“It was nothing, because I know he will shed light on inclusion. He was shedding light on diversity. Everybody's just themselves,” she said.
“And it's a good feeling because you can just be whoever you want to be at this festival and enjoy good music and even learn good music if you didn't know it.”
That was Pharrell’s pitch to the city when he presented the idea in 2018.
And after losing the festival, Beach leaders reveled in what they’re calling a successful weekend.
“This has been an iconic event that we’re going to remember forever,” Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said on the second day of the festival.
“I see a beautiful mosaic of people coming together from all races and all socioeconomic (backgrounds), just having a good time.”
Barfield said Something in the Water isn’t just about music — and that’s what makes it different from other Beach events.
“We're family out here,” she said. “Hampton Roads is an area of seven cities that displays all love, good energy.”
Hosting a different weekend-long event was the city’s hope when they approved the first one to take the place of the popular event, College Beach Weekend.
Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer told WHRO authorizing Something in the Water was one of the first big things that landed on his desk after he was elected as mayor.
“A lot of people told me not to do it. They thought it was going to be just an exacerbation of College Beach weekend,’” Dyer said before this year’s festival.
Instead, the 2019 festival had a $24 million economic impact and passed with no noticeable spikes in crime.
So when Pharrell announced he would be holding the first festival back after the pandemic in Washington D.C. instead of Virginia Beach again, Beach leaders scrambled to convince him otherwise.
“Something in the Water made an enormous impact on Virginia Beach and catapulted the city into the national and international spotlight. Positive messages of inclusivity and togetherness were heard, seen and — most importantly — felt,” city manager Patrick Duhaney wrote in an email to Pharrell.
Williams wrote in response the festival had four main goals: ease racial tension, unify the region, create economic development opportunities and help local businesses.
“We achieved those things!” Williams wrote. “I wish the same energy I’ve felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative’s life.”
He was referencing his cousin, Donovon Lynch, who was shot and killed by an Oceanfront police officer in 2021. The officer didn’t have his body camera on and was cleared of doing anything wrong.
The family settled a wrongful death suit with the city after Pharrell announced he was bringing the festival back to the Beach.
Pharrell didn’t mention his cousin at the festival, but he did make sure to remind festival-goers this wasn’t always possible in his hometown.
“People that look like us don’t get these opportunities,” Pharrell said during his set on the second night of this year’s festival.
“So when we get that opportunity, when the universe sends you the right partners like LiveNation, the universe sends you all these artists, the universe sends you the local government.”
Saturday night’s Pharrell’s “Phriends” set, the superstar-filled performance which has become the centerpiece of the festival, felt a bit like a throwback to the 2019 festival. Busta Rhymes and Diddy returned, as did Tappahannock’s Chris Brown, who had his own set during the inaugural event.
The Something in the Water mastermind brought out surprise guests like A$AP Rocky, who played an as-yet-unreleased collaboration with Pharrell that the New York rapper said would be appearing on his next album.
But some fans had been expecting an even bigger star. The rumor mill had been churning all week long and into the weekend, with fans whispering about someone like Beyoncé making an appearance.
“I’m hoping, I’ve heard Drake, which would be cool,” said Darrel Dixon from Norfolk.
The Queen Bee never appeared, nor did husband Jay-Z, who was the biggest surprise name at the 2019 Phriends set. Drake was nowhere to be seen either.
Still, Pharrell’s hometown crowd lavished him and his guests with applause and shouted lyrics during renditions of hits like “Get Lucky” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.”
“God bless Coachella, God bless all the other ones — but this is different, ‘cause this is ours,” Pharrell said.
Weather was the event’s biggest setback. Friday was delayed by rain and winds until the evening, which canceled a few early sets and shortened others.
Then Sunday’s entire lineup was washed out because of thunderstorms and a tornado warning. Wu-Tang Clan and Lil Uzi Vert had been scheduled to close out the festival.
Amid the storms, a twister ripped through a Great Neck neighborhood Sunday night, severely damaging homes and property. Virginia Beach city officials released a statement announcing the cancellation of Something In The Water events around the same time Sunday evening.
“No one wants to make this call, but we cannot predict nor negotiate with the weather tonight,” wrote City Manager Patrick Duhaney.
College students Ashley Sandoval and Brandon McCleskey traveled from Richmond for the event.
“Even though today the weather sucked, Friday and Saturday definitely made up for today. So, yeah it was worth it,” Sandoval said.