There are very few people who have contributed to not only the world of music, but also the world of entertainment, as much or for as long as Pharrell Williams. Among the many hats that he has placed upon his head over his thirty-year career, the more commonly known ones — singer, rapper, and producer — seem to have taken a backseat in recent years. Today, these post-Vivienne Westwood hats that Pharrell wears include fashion designer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and community activist. And the latter two are seemingly the titles Pharrell desires to wear the most.
Over the past few years, Pharrell’s focus has been deeply rooted in the improvement of his hometown community in Virginia Beach. In 2017, Pharrell pushed forward a plan to bring a new Virginia Beach Dome venue to the Oceanfront. The venue would boast a 100,000-square foot surf park and be surrounded by a number of attractions including local shops, restaurants, and music entertainment venues. It was with the belief that this venue would play an enormous part in injecting life back into a near-barren Virginia Beach. The following year, Pharrell returned with yet another proposal. Frustrated with Virginia-based properties, like the 2016 film Hidden Figures film he scored, being filmed in places that were not Virginia, Pharrell sought to make his home state a film and TV destination. He began consulting with a Virginia Beach-based commercial real estate developer for possible sites for a film campus. Legislation was also drafted to make the idea become a reality.
The common theme between each of the aforementioned plans from Pharrell is his continued effort to improve the community that made him the multi-faceted star he is today. Each conceived plan in the mind of Pharrell is put together with the idea of bettering the lives of others in his hometown. They had a goal of altering the perception of growing up and achieving success in the realm of arts in Virginia Beach. The previous plans see him placing an attraction in his hometown for their benefit, where the early success or failure of it would not put its continued existence at risk. However, Pharrell’s late-2018 proposal would be one where an early and immediate success would be crucial.
Before 2019, Pharrell’s hometown of Virginia had been riddled with crime issues during College Beach Weekend, held yearly in late-April. During this unoffical tradition, the area sees college students flood the streets prior to their finals week for a celebration that could often turn sour. Looking at 2016-2018, law enforcement found themselves making a significantly higher number of arrests compared to other weekends in the city.
However, with Pharrell, when there’s a problem, there’s a proposal. He unveiled a new plan to bring a music festival to Virginia Beach’s College Beach Weekend starting in 2019. The plan was eye-candy to both city leaders, who saw the idea as a way to reduce city crime during the April weekend, and locals who drooled at the idea of a high-level festival taking over their city with the best music, art, food, guest speakers, and more that Pharrell’s world had to offer. The proposal was officially presented, and the Virginia Beach City Council raised few concerns, greenlighting the initial groundwork to launch the Something In The Water Festival.
Unlike Pharrell’s previous communal work, Something In The Water would be a direct partnership with the community. Cooperation from its residents was imperative to ensure the festival would see life after its inaugural edition. As a man who has given so much to his community, Pharrell now needed them to band together and display the same love and appreciation for their city. Despite the pressure or worry from others, he never showed any doubt or concern with his hometown. The communal love that seemed to bring the present community together whenever it was called for was on for full display for its first year.
The inaugural Something In The Water Festival was a true work of art. This take doesn’t come from news reports or the plethora of social media responses; I personally made the nine-hour drive from my New England home to Virginia Beach to witness the festival for one of two reasons. One, the inaugural festival lineup was an all-timer. And two, knowing the touch Pharrell has when it comes to curated projects — whether it be music, fashion, or art — the first showing promised to be an event to remember.
Virginia Beach in all its beauty was out for display during the week of April 26-28. The only flaw was Mother Nature’s refusal to cooperate with the festival as the first day was canceled due to heavy rains. Day three also experienced an estimated thirty-minute delay due to rain. Aside from that, the musical performances were top-notch. Pharrell showered attendees with some of Virginia’s best talents — Charlie Wilson, Leikeli47, Pusha T, DRAM, and Teddy Riley, just to name few — as well as other big-name acts ranging from Travis Scott to SZA. But the performances were hardly the most impactful aspect of the weekend festival.
The first edition of the Something In The Water Festival boasted the deeply-rooted love and appreciation Virginians held for their community. Throughout its entirety, “two up, two down” hand symbols stood like flags in the crowd of the festival. The seven cities stood together more so as one large city, one that knew how to defend itself from the wrath of outsiders, but not so much from the threats of its inhabitants — until this very festival. After its conclusion, city leaders revealed that crime during the festival weekend was at a rate lower than only one College Beach Weekend since 2012.
Many festivals simply bring their weekend of performances to a city without little consideration for that very city. Their cultures are incorporated for promotional reasons while leaving the very people responsible for those cultures on the curbside — Not Pharrell, though. He incorporated all aspects of Virginia to Something In The Water. UberEats partnered with a number of local restaurants to share free samples to festival-goers. Discussions and panels were held that presented the younger-aged attendees with the necessary skills and vital information to gain opportunities in the tech and music world.
Being an outsider, I was beyond shocked to hear that crime — especially at the rate discussed — was of any worry to the city. Prior to realizing its severity, I quickly labeled Virginia Beach as “Miami Beach minus the adolescent chaos” upon my first visit. Recognizing the selfless person Pharrell is and has been to the Virginia community for decade upon decade, protecting the vision he had in place for the city became the uncontested goal for Virginia as a whole and they achieved that with flying colors.
Now, Something In The Water is just two months away from officially kicking off its second year. The festival has grown into a week-long affair in its sophomore year, thanks to four days of “expanded programming” that will feature some of the best in the culinary, technology, environmental sustainability, health & wellness, and media world starting the Monday of that week. For Virginia, considering the way last year’s festival played out, that simply means more for the community by the community.
In his many appearances on stage at last year’s festival, Pharrell was greeted with an insurmountable wave of love. The Virginia-native has blessed the region time and time again and the crowd’s enthusiasm throughout the festival came from a place of gratitude and excitement, thrilled with the opportunity to make sure their hometown hero’s vision was executed.
Closing his set at last year’s festival, J Balvin delivered a message to the crowd, “You may not understand everything I’m saying, but you feel the love.” It was this same love that traveled back and forth between the creator and their community. Pharrell’s relationship with Virginia — and vice versa — is literally changing both parties for the better, and as preparation for Something In The Water’s second year continues, both parties look to add another layer to strengthen their already impermeable bond.