Pharrell Williams Brings Something in the Water Music Festival to DC in June 2022
“It’s very special. It means a lot to me. It means a lot to my community,” Williams said in a phone interview. “I’m from 757 [the area code for Virginia Beach and the Tidewater region] in Virginia Beach. Obviously, that’s a third of the entire DMV. There has always been so much special energy around the DMV. The way we love each other. … I just think it’s high time we took our movement and everything we do to the nation’s capital and really celebrate all that Something in the Water is.
The initial lineup features an eclectic mix of artists, including Virginia natives Dave Matthews Band and Pusha T alongside Usher and Tyler, The Creator. For Williams, trying to create a mix of genres came naturally. The 49-year-old built his legacy as one of modern pop music‘s most influential architects on his wide, inquisitive ear.
“The spectrum of performers we have is a direct reflection of growing up as a child of the DMV and Virginia,” Williams said. “It was very separate. It didn’t really seem like the powers that be, who were kind of the gatekeepers at the time, really understood the power of diversity, the power of inclusion, and the power of equity.
“Why do I have to look a certain way to listen to something? Or why do I need to speak or have a certain accent because I like this particular musical act of a completely different genre than you would expect? We just want to be true to that. Don’t try to put us in a box; we’ve had enough.
There was one easy source of inspiration for Williams when deciding who to book for the festival: DC himself. Pioneering go-go bands Backyard Band, Rare Essence and Sound of the City were announced as scheduled artists.
“You think of a place like the 9:30 Club where Bad Brains would play at some point and then Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers would play,” Williams said. “These are places that house all that sound; how do you not have some of that on programming?
“DC was really a major contributor to early rap music. Rock the Bells… you know, ask [producer] Teddy Riley where would he be and where would his sound be [without D.C.] — the new jack swing been just accelerated go-go. So you have to understand that go-go music is one of the founding pillars of rap music, period.
The festival, which did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, began as a love letter to Williams’ hometown. But he said in October 2021 that he would no longer hold the festival in the Tidewater area following Virginia Beach’s response to the police killing of his cousin Donovan Lynch in 2021, citing the “toxic energy” that he found out by talking with city officials, particularly Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer.
Dyer “said things that really hurt me, and it was just because his conversation with me was culturally deaf,” Williams said. “There were the right words to say and the right way to handle things, and I don’t think that’s how he behaved. My cousin has volunteered for the festival, and then the festival comes around and I’m like, I can’t believe this is even part of the conversation, and in my mind, I’m like, ‘Man, you worried about the loss of this festival. … When you point out to me that the loss of the festival — something you didn’t want at the very beginning — is more important than the loss of my cousin’s life, I don’t know how to help you.
The June 19 weekend pick was significant for Williams since Something in the Water will host community events to support Black and Latinx-owned businesses as well as a partnership with DC public schools. But Williams is focused on getting everyone involved in fostering community in the Washington area, just as it was planned for Virginia Beach.
“We created a festival for human beings,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter what color, how you identify. If you have blood in your body, a brain in your head, and a heart in your chest, you are welcome to Something in the Water, and everyone felt This love? That was what it was all about.
Tickets for Something in the Water go on sale April 30 at 10 a.m. at somethinginthewater.com.