pharrell williams
pharrell williams
Photo Credit: Heather Cromartie for Something in the Water

Something is Missing with Pharrell Williams' Something In The Water Festival

Despite intentions to bring the best to his hometown of Virginia Beach, Pharrell Williams' third annual Something In The Water festival fell flat.

From the moment you touch down in Virginia Beach, there’s a profound understanding of just how much Pharrell Williams is this city’s son. There’s skateboarding parks near the boardwalk, murals adorning surf shops, a restaurant with a drink named “The Pharrell,” and an assortment of bars and restaurants along the boardwalk that played songs that could easily be added to a playlist of The Neptunes’ greatest hits. It’s the appeal and legacy that Pharrell Williams has crafted for himself, his childhood friends turned peers, and hometown that has brought legions of fans dressed head to toe in BBC gear and N.E.R.D. caps. But Something In The Water 2023 was more than just a celebration of Pharrell. It was about community. Throughout the week, events like “A Seat At The Table: An Arts & Culture Experience” occurred with panels about Black creatives, educators, and mental health. There were stages along the boardwalk that highlighted local artists, while VA legend and former rapper turned entrepreneur Fam-Lay hosted a free R&B Block Party. There was a heavy emphasis on togetherness throughout the week that seemed to be executed better at the community stages, than at the festival’s main Solar and Lunar stages. 

Because — and there’s really no other way to put it — the third annual three day Something in the Water festival fell flat — offering fans a lackluster experience. The weather didn't help things. There was torrential rain throughout extended periods of the festival. Friday, there was a weather delay; while the final day, Sunday, was canceled with fans missing out on the opportunity to see Grace Jones, the Clipse, Wu-Tang Clan, and more. 

Saturday — the day P was closing — was the day most fans were looking forward to, and the day the weather cooperated the most. 

230429190744 cr9a2695 heather cromartie artist Photo Credit: Heather Cromartie for Something in the Water

P’s rolodex of superstar friends and connections is deep, but there’s not much that can really top the first Something In The Water festival, which featured JAY-Z, Teddy Riley, Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg, and Timbaland. However, that doesn’t mean that his performance for the fest and its overall energy shouldn’t evolve either. Per usual, he started off with a few hits from The Neptunes catalog — Clipse's “Mr. Me Too,” Snoop Dogg's “Beautiful,” and the crowd favorite “Frontin’” — but his vocals were flat, and he seemed to want to stay more to the side than in the forefront of the performance. Busta Rhymes hit the stage and his energy exploded onto the stage with a medley including A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” remix, “Light Ya Ass On Fire,” and “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See,” before bringing out Diddy for “Pass the Courvoisier.” It was one of the few major highlights of the performance to see the three of them together 20 years later, and was reminiscent of their iconic performance of the song at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. P also made space for the women in hip-hop, as Coi Leray joined Busta for a “Players” mash-up, while Lola Brooke took to the stage to perform her “Don’t Play With It” remix with Latto. M.I.A. performed “Bad Girls” and the iconic “Paper Planes,” but that didn’t make up for her awkward, lackluster energy and winded vocal delivery. 

A$AP Rocky brought the energy back up as he performed “No I.D.” and premiered a new song with Pharrell titled “Roddy Piper.” Following that, Pharrell gave a passionate introduction to De La Soul, crediting them as one of the acts that heavily influenced him and musical partner Chad Hugo. With Maseo on the 1s and 2s, Pos held it down as MC as they performed “Much More,” “Stakes Is High,” “A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays,” and “Me Myself and I.” It was sentimental watching Pharrell, a direct musical descendant of the Native Tongues movement, give flowers to the legendary hip-hop group and shout out the group’s third member, the late Dave Trugoy. Unfortunately, the energy brought by De La was brought back to an unfulfilled low when Chris Brown took the stage as the night’s final “phriend,” performing “Loyal,” “Look At Me Now,” and “Under The Influence.” As Pharrell ended the night with a performance of “Get Lucky” — sans Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers — only one thought came to mind while standing in the cold sand — “That was it?”

230429231137 mpl00243 mickey pierre louis artist Photo Credit: Mickey Pierre Louis for Something in the Water

Pharrell’s “phriends” set felt randomly thrown together: a roster based on who was available instead of being carefully planned and orchestrated. With this year marking the 20th anniversary of The Neptunes Present… Clones, it would’ve been great to see P run through songs from the album with Spymob or Nelly. Also, certain inclusions could’ve been nixed for better alternatives. Chris Brown could’ve easily been replaced with other R&B acts P has worked with, while M.I.A.’s underwhelming appearance would’ve been better in the hands of Gwen Stefani, or artists like SZA who was supposed to perform last year but didn’t. 

Hopefully, with next year and the following years, P and his team will be able to figure out the “something” that’s missing from the festival. But whatever was in the water this past weekend was an underwhelming and fleeting experience.