Something In The Water’s 2022 Festival Was An Acceptable Return That Needs Some Fine-Tuning Going Forward

The wait for the second edition of Pharrell’s Something In The Water Festival took a bit longer following its debut in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, the coronavirus pandemic put consecutive delays on the showcase, making 2022 the year that it would hopefully make its grand return. The excitement behind SITW was absolutely warranted. Its inaugural showcase was a lively two-day presentation (the first day was nixed because of weather) that brought forth the best talent that the music industry and Pharrell’s hometown of Virginia Beach and the state as a whole had to offer. Jay-Z, SZA, Pharrell, Travis Scott, ASAP Ferg, Missy Elliott, Jhene Aiko, Rosalia, Anderson .Paak, Usher, Busta Rhynes, Leikeli47, DRAM, and Pusha T were just some of the artists I was fortunate enough to see back in 2019.

When the second SITW festival was announced earlier this year, it was clear that some changes were in order. Its venue changed from the coastal beauty of Virginia Beach to the city life of Washington D.C. This was due to Pharrell’s frustrations with how his hometown handled the murder of his cousin, Donovan Lynch, who was killed by a police officer who did not have their body camera turned on. Seeing that this year’s Something In The Water would take place within six blocks in Washington D.C., it was clear that the atmosphere would be different this time – and it certainly was.

Pharrell SITW 2022
SITW/Ahad Subzwari

With the Virginia Beach edition of Something In The Water, it was clear that Pharrell was inviting us into his home. You could sit on whatever furniture you liked and you were free to grab whatever you wanted from the cabinets. We were welcomed and treated to the best hospitality that the 757 could offer. While D.C. is still a part of the DMV area, this year’s edition of Something In The Water didn’t have that same feeling. This isn’t a knock on the hospitality that D.C. offered as the city also welcomed festivalgoers (and the entire festival itself) with open arms. The showcase just felt like it was crammed into the country’s capital, and to a certain extent, it quite literally was.

Logistically, there were some flaws throughout the weekend. The Sun stage, the festival’s main stage, and the Earth stage were placed too close to each other, making it hard to clearly hear a respective stage depending on where you stood. In total, the three performance stages as well as stands for food, drinks, merch, and more were in close proximity to each other. Long lines for these stands spilled into walking traffic, causing heavy congestion during peak hours. Day two of SITW is where this congestion was felt the most as it caused problems for many on Saturday evening. It began during Snoh Aalegra and Lil Uzi Vert’s sets, and it only worsened as Pharrell took the stage for his star-studded performance. Multiple fans required medical attention, seemingly more so than any other point during the weekend, and reports of overcrowding arrived as some fans revealed they were not allowed to re-enter festival grounds despite having a valid wristband. Seemingly enough, things appeared to be much calmer on day 3 by the main stage (from my point of view at least) as Denzel Curry, Teyana Taylor (and Junie), Pusha T, 21 Savage, and Tyler The Creator concluded the event.

There’s no doubt that this year’s Something In The Water festival was less spacious than the first iteration which brought in 35,000 people. With that in mind, one would think that the attendance count would be around that number, but, during his near-two-hour set on Saturday, Pharrell boldly proclaimed that 50,000 people made their way to Washington D.C.’s downtown area for the showcase. In a post-Astrowold festival world, there are still some similarities and some noticeable differences in how artists handle these big performances. They’re much more willing to pause their sets to allow fans to receive medical attention as we saw during performances from Denzel Curry (who asked that everyone in the crowd be given water), Teyana Taylor, Pharrell, and others. However, the mosh-pitting that often causes some to be put in situations that result in needing medical attention is still alive and well, as we’ve seen through many festivals in the last seven months. With that seeming like something that will remain a festival staple going forward, it’s absolutely essential to prioritize fans’ safety in as many ways as possible.

Despite these negatives, there were plenty of highs from the 2022 SITW festival thanks to some strong performances from artists on the bill. Lil Baby was flashy and charismatic as ever as he ran through hits, B-side records, and new tracks from his discography. Usher reminded the world why he’s one of the best R&B has ever produced with a lengthy set that was more than impressive despite some of his fan-favorite songs not getting stage time. Chloe X Halle showed off their vocals for a great set that was unfortunately shortened due to flight issues they had beforehand. Lil Uzi Vert delivered an out-of-this-world experience with an equally otherworldly hairdo. Pusha T showed off his self-placed crown as hip-hop’s best during an extremely confident set. Teyana Taylor brilliantly dance and sang her way through her set while her daughter Junie joined the stage and proved that she is very much her mother’s daughter. Tyler The Creator closed day three of the festival with a lengthy appearance that reminded the world why he is one of today’s best artists, no matter the genre.

Last but not least, Pharrell’s own performance was a memorable aspect of the weekend. It was highlighted by a Clipse reunion as Pusha T and his brother Malice had not performed in over a decade. Their brief time on stage presented classics like “Grindin” and “Mr. Me Too.” Justin Timberlake also brought out his classics – and some interesting dance moves – while T.I. delivered a set of his own that featured an appearance from his son Domani. N.O.R.E. even checked in too, and through it all, Pharrell made time to perform classics from his artist and production discography.

Pharrell’s Something In The Water was created to highlight Black talent from his home state of Virginia as well as the surrounding DMV area. It’s a grand showcase to display the uniqueness of our culture and that “something” that is in our water. By all means, Pharrell accomplished that, even outside of music, through vendors, activations, off-site events, and more. He even gave back to the community and cleared the student debt of five young adults at an NAACP panel. Maybe D.C. will now be the festival’s permanent home or maybe it will return to that coastal beauty of Virginia where fans can experience the Something In The Water that over 35,000 people fell in love with back in 2019. The thing is, with the D.C. edition, the latter is possible to achieve. However, there is a lot of fine-tuning that needs to be done in order to restore that beauty. Once that happens, Something In The Water will return to being one of the great festivals that the music world has to offer.

Pharrell Pusha T 2022
SITW/Kara Smarsh

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.