“When [they] came down here [they] discovered that there was something in the water, so let us share that with these people” – Pharrell Williams
At the tail end of the Atlantic Avenue stretch of Virginia Beach, Pharrell Williams hosted his first “Something in the Water” festival. All weekend, the boardwalk buzzed with excited festival attendees ready to see the likes of Masego, Janelle Monae, Lil Uzi Vert, the Dave Matthews Band and the rest of day 1’s lineup. A torrential downpour turned three-days into two, but even in the midst of the storm the boardwalk never cleared. Instead, restaurants all down the strip overflowed with music lovers who joined each other at the bar, anxiously awaiting an update from the SITW App to direct their next move. A waterfall of notifications culminated in a cancellation of day one, but even in defeat, Pharrell was still able to accomplish what he set out to do in the first place; he brought people together and drove money into the economy of his hometown. In true Pharrell fashion, he made up for the loss of opening day with a partial refund to ticket holders and surprise performances by Jay-Z and Tyler, The Creator. Not bad, Skateboard P.
Pharrell orchestrated the “Something in The Water” festival in collaboration with the city of Virginia Beach to offset the often chaotic and sometimes violent atmosphere surrounding “Beach Week”. On a panel discussion broadcast through his iamOTHER Beats 1 show, he talked about Beach Week historically being written off as a weekend in which “Black people, the black students, come down here and cause trouble. It was a stereotype that he made a priority to dismantle.
For Pharrell & co., the festival was about inviting the world to his backyard and providing natives and visitors with a productive itinerary to follow. His goal was to promote business, culture, and positivity into a Virginia-centric weekend and in his words, “Music happens to be the thread that connects it all and now the world is going to see Virginia for the very first time in a big way.” Every oceanfront hotel balcony and rooftop was lined with spectators day and night — SITW had successfully crashed Beach Week and it was the only event in town that mattered.
The energy at the festival felt exactly like what you would expect from an iamOTHER brain-child. It was all-inclusive, and there was a Sober Beach support center, voter registration was going around, and there was the unique experience to travel through the transportation of music with icons Charlie Wilson, Teddy Riley, Blackstreet and SWV. It was magic.
Amongst the natives was a sense of pride and camaraderie as they welcomed tourists into their local watering holes and took the initiative of cleaning up the litter that started lining the beach. Whispers lingered about VA Beach not being the type of neighborhood that typically welcomed the Black community enmasse, but this time, there was the sense that not only was this community it’s guests of honor, but they were the mayors and the gatekeepers too. Commentary by performers like Diddy, Missy Elliott and Anderson .Paak echoed this sentiment when they made note of the beauty they saw in the crowd and how monumental the occasion was. Again, magic.
An installation by Kaws, an interactive media center by Sony, free forums including meditation with Deepak Chopra, entrepreneurial workshops for the city youth, and a Pop-Up Church service surrounded the festival. The only stage on the grounds was graced by the likes of Tyler, The Creator, N.E.R.D., Kaytranada, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Travis Scott, J. Balvin, Mac Demarco, Rosalia, Jhene Aiko and the list goes on and on…but the true highlight of the weekend was in the curation of Virginia’s homegrown talent.
Although not often recognized for its contributions to the music industry, SITW reminded its audience that it owes an immense amount of gratitude to the great state of Virginia. On the eve of the festival, Chad Hugo of the Neptunes and N.E.R.D. was presented with the key to the city. A recurring theme during the Phrarell & Friends set was exclaiming “this one was made right here in Virginia Beach” from time to time by a legend or two. The line up was filled with artists who were either born and raised Virginian or frequented the state — a testament to whatever is in that water.
The crowd roared to hometown heros FamLay and Pusha T as equally as they did to rising stars Leikeli47 and DRAM. Moments with Missy, Timbaland & Magoo and Chris Brown, reminded the audience that there is and always has been something special about the artistry that Virginia bred. As the weekend came to a close, the sandy shores were left with well over 30,000 dancing footprints and a line drawn in the sand: talent is what’s in that water, and the music is all the better for it.