Joining the ranks of Drake’s OVO Fest, J. Cole’s Dreamville, Travis Scott’s Astroworld, and JAY-Z’s Made in America, Pharrell’s Something in the Water Festival is one of the many celebrity-branded music fests that have popped up over the last ten years. This year’s festival, which is in its second year, started off pretty rocky.
After a solid first year — which included acts such as Missy Elliott, SZA, Gunna, and a Pharrell and Friends set featuring JAY-Z and Chris Brown — the second iteration of this festival was met with a few setbacks. For one, in 2o2o, COVID-19 completely halted live performances within the music space. Secondly, Pharrell’s cousin was tragically shot and killed by Virginia Beach police in 2021. Allegedly, Pharrell was unsatisfied with the investigation and he decided to move the festival to D.C. (Reports say his hometown lost out on about $24 million dollars that could have assisted the community.) Despite these factors, Pharrell and his team moved the festival, with the show set to the backdrop of the Capitol Building.
Pharrell managed, within a few acts and his own, to accomplish his mission for the weekend: celebrate his own legacy while highlighting the talents of the next generation. However, there were many issues: multiple emergencies of attending patrons passing out due to dehydration and movement in the extremely cramped crowds; people who managed to cut lines and enter the festival without having tickets or passes; people getting their phones pick-pocketed; and an oddly arranged site ground that could have easily been a major safety hazard.
On the Friday, the first day of the festival, Anderson .Paak reunited with his band The Free Nationals for a lively set at the Moon Stage. They performed fan favorites such as “Suede” and “Am I Wrong.” Paak’s musicianship, camaraderie with the band and fans plus humor made his set the must-see of the first night. Anderson’s set conflicted with Usher’s, who performed hits like “You Make Me Wanna” and “Yeah!” While his show was exciting, and left the crowd feeling energized, Usher and Anderson should have been given the proper time needed so they could run the best of their discographies.
There were three stages: Moon, Earth, and Sun. By Saturday, the Sun Stage was the place to be. With a line-up of Chloe x Halle, Snoh Aalegra, and Lil Uzi Vert dominating before “Pharrell and Phriends,”closed things out. However, there was an air of claustrophobia surrounding the area, making it difficult for media and fans alike to maneuver safely through the bunched crowds to properly enjoy the sets or even head to one of the many hydration stations available. The earlier sets and overflowing patrons were just a hint of how overwhelming the night would become at Pharrell’s set. With nearly 25,000 people crammed onto one street — that held three stages, two long rows of food trucks, and multiple hydration stations — it was becoming a logistical nightmare with many opting to sit in the middle of the street watching performances on two larger screens.
Chloe x Halle’s set appeared to be cut short, while Q-Tip and SZA’s appearances were canceled. Snoh Aalegra’s ethereal persona was on full display during her set as she ran through hits like “Woah” and “Find Someone Like You.” Unfortunately, the sound seemed to also be an issue as, the further away you were from her stage, Mariah The Scientist could be heard bleeding into Snoh’s production. Lil Uzi Vert delivered one of the best sets from the entire three-day weekend. Filled with ragging energy and a cohesive set-list, Uzi dominated with “Money Longer” and “Neon Guts” which featured an early sighting of Pharrell. He wrapped by before paying homage to XXXTENTACION calling him, “The only rapper who was my competition.”
Energy and anticipation was high for Pharrell’s closing set. Due to poor communication, logistical planning, and disorganization, hundreds at the door were turned away from even witnessing Skateboard P’s set due to overcrowding (organizers have since announced they will be refunded). While I was able to enjoy the set from the luxury of being backstage, many patrons and friends who attended attested to the constant surging of the crowds towards the stage adding to the multiple times Pharrell stopped the show to call for EMT.
The highlights of Pharrell’s set included Justin Timberlake performing “My Love” with T.I. and the Clipse performing “What Happened to That Boy” and “Grindin'”alongside Pharrell. N.O.R.E’s intro by Pharrell to “go back to the beginning, where it all started” engaged the audience in a roaring chant as The Neptunes’ iconic four-count ushered in the hits “Superthug” and “Nothin’.” P took us through a brief musical journey of hits that included Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” “Signs” and the classic “Frontin'” that nearly left a hard-core Neptunes lover like me in tears.
However, it wasn’t Pharrell’s performance that capped off the meaning of the weekend as well as the significance of his set and presence. With partner Chad and Pharrell being inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame a day before the festival began and the N.E.R.D. exclusive merch nearly selling out instantly at the merch stand, it was clear that while the line-up of fascinating artists was a plus, the crowd was here for Pharrell and what he symbolizes for them. At almost 50 years old, he’s beginning to reap the benefits and accept the flowers of the kids who like myself admired the self-proclaimed nerd. It was Baby Tate and Tyler, the Creator who was front row for his set, and Tyler who nearly jumped on stage in amazement at Pharrell performing the In My mind classic “That Girl.” The feelings of why we attended were summed up perfectly by Tyler in his set on Sunday night which closed out the festival. Wrapping up his performance with Pharrell and 21 Savage on Sunday of “Cash In Cash Out,” Tyler passionately declared to Pharrell, “The innovation, the execution…I’m forever in debt to you.”
Leaving Something in the Water, I realized that celebrity-branded festivals aren’t necessarily the way into dominating and reinventing the culture. As we’ve seen with Astroworld and other festivals of the past, it’s a concept that much like the music itself is constantly evolving. For a man who has predicted the changes in music and assisted in its evolution of it, one can only hope that with time and through experience, Pharrell and the organizers can learn, adjust and implement changes as festival culture evolves.
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