Apr 27, 2022 - News

Town Talker: How D.C. landed Pharrell’s Something in the Water fest

Something in the Water festival poster lineup

In early October last year, rapper Pusha T was on a phone call with John Falcicchio, the top aide to Mayor Muriel Bowser, shopping for a new home for the star-studded Something in the Water music festival.

His friend Pharrell Williams, the festival’s founder, had just shaken up Virginia Beach, pulling the event out of the city over what he called the “toxic energy” in his hometown’s leadership.

What I’m hearing: The event had drawn $24 million in revenue for the resort city in 2019, the last time it had been held. D.C. was very into it.

  • “It fit into what the mayor had said we wanted to do to activate D.C.,” Falcicchio tells me.

Why it matters: Williams and Bowser stood together yesterday to reveal the festival is moving to Independence Avenue, bringing some of music’s hottest artists to town on Juneteenth weekend.

  • In addition to Pharrell and Pusha T, here’s just a short sampling: Ashanti & Ja Rule, Calvin Harris, Lil Baby, Chloe x Halle, Tyler, The Creator, Dave Matthews Band, and Jon Batiste. Go-go bands Backyard Band, Rare Essence, and Sound of the City are also involved.
  • The acts will cover three stages, with the Capitol as a backdrop, from June 17 to June 19.
  • Three-day passes go on sale at 10am this Saturday.

The buzzy event is a win for the District, and a loss for its southern neighbor.

  • Williams’ distaste of Virginia Beach’s leadership stems from the March 2021 police killing of his cousin, Donovan Lynch. It led to Black Lives Matter protests on the oceanfront. Outrage grew once it became known the officer who shot him had not turned on his body cam. A grand jury later cleared the officer.
  • “I love my city, but for too long it has been run by and with toxic energy,” Williams wrote in an Oct. 5, 2021 letter announcing the festival would leave.
  • Virginia Beach leaders begged for the festival to stay, the Virginian-Pilot reported. But the venue didn’t make sense for organizers of an event whose purpose was to promote inclusiveness.

Now, plans for an amped-up festival are underway 200 miles north.

  • “This is going to be the first of its kind,” Williams said on Tuesday with Bowser outside Ballou High School, whose students will get free tickets. “It’s going to be really lit.”

💬 Are you happy? Town Talker is my weekly column on local politics. Send tips: [email protected]

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