VIRGINIA BEACH – Virginia Beach lost the Something in the Water festival last year, but the tide has turned – Pharrell Williams is bringing it back.
He announced Wednesday that the festival will be held April 28-30 at the Oceanfront.
“I have to go home,” Williams said in a statement after the announcement at his Mighty Dream Forum, a business conference in Norfolk.
So what made him change his mind?
The Virginian-Pilot could not reach Williams for comment Friday, but it appears several factors played a role.
The first Something in the Water in 2019 turned out to be a success beyond expectations. It sold 35,000 tickets. The total economic impact on the region was estimated at approximately $24 million. In Virginia Beach, it generated $1.2 million in tax revenue.
But more than money, it produced feelings of harmony and unity that many hoped to relive each spring. The pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 events to be cancelled.
At the end of September 2021, the city of Virginia Beach executives urged Pharrell Williams in a letter not to pull the festival out of his hometown.
Williams was devastated by the city’s handling of the death of his cousin, Donovon Lynch, who was shot by a police officer in March 2021 at the edge of the ocean. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Williams, a Virginia Beach native, voiced his displeasure in a letter to the city last fall, claiming that the city was run by “toxic energy”.
At the time, Mayor Bobby Dyer said he wanted to call a meeting “to see what we can do to get things back on track,” but Williams had made up his mind. He decides to move the popular party to Washington.
Fans lamented his decision to pull out of Virginia Beach with comments online. Charmaine Cannon and the other administrators of the Facebook group Something in the Water Festival posted: “We want to be part of the SOLUTION. They held a “sit down” event in a park last October to show their support.
The group now has 17,300 members. When Williams announced on Wednesday that the festival was returning, the comments lit up.
“See you all at the beach!” posted a fan. Another simply shared three “smiley face with hearts” emojis.
Cannon was among the Thousands of people attended the 2022 Something in the Water festival in Washington on the weekend of June 16, but said it didn’t have the same “vibe” as Virginia Beach.
Complaints about overcrowding, logistical flaws and sound distortion cast a shadow over it.
Williams may have listened to his fans.
“The demand for the festival in Virginia Beach and The 757 — among people — has never waned. On the contrary, it has only intensified,” he said in the statement Wednesday.
Cannon is thrilled that the festival is coming home. “It’s just something about the beach that’s unmatched,” she said by phone Friday.
Dozens of Virginia Beach fans lined up Saturday morning for the “locals-only” ticket sale.
Virginia Beach’s experience with oceanfront music festivals may also have had an impact. The city seized the opportunity for the festival’s inaugural year, with little time to plan. The beachfront scenes with the ocean as a backdrop, and the The comfortable spring weather proved almost ideal for Something in the Water.
And then there is the name. Williams has repeatedly said that famous people from Virginia – musicians, athletes, scientists and more – inspired the nickname of the festival. He wanted to highlight these successes and build on them.
Raised as a young child in Seatack, a predominantly black neighborhood near resort town Virginia Beach, Williams is one of them. And he never forgot where he came from, staying involved in the community and local business opportunities. It is a partner in the planned Atlantic Park project, which will include an entertainment center and a surf park.
Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse has informally mediated between Williams and the city for the past several years. Rouse said this week that the conversation about bringing the festival back to Virginia Beach began in August when he, Councilman Linwood Branch, City Manager Patrick Duhaney and Deputy City Manager Taylor Adams met with Williams in New York.
It opened the lines of communication about how the city could help the festival financially if it returned, Councilman Guy Tower said in an interview Thursday.
“It was extremely helpful,” Tower said. “It was definitely a landmark.”
Since that meeting, the city and Williams’ representatives have been negotiating “potential financial arrangements,” Tower said.
The city recently agreed to provide festival producers with $500,000 for marketing, which will be recouped through admissions, meals and the local portion of festival sales taxes, according to city spokeswoman Tiffany Russell.
Virginia Beach will also provide free of charge: various resort area stages, public parking lots for festival support and carpooling and some police and public works personnel and convention center use.
Williams surprised city leaders on Tuesday when they learned that Williams planned to announce the festival’s return to the Mighty Dream forum, before the city council votes on the $500,000 advance.
“It’s evolved faster than anything we’ve ever seen,” Adams told the Resort Advisory Commission on Thursday. “Not only did we find out the event was returning, but tickets were on sale this weekend.”
A public hearing on the the advance will take place on November 15 and the board will vote on December 6.
Meanwhile, hotels are already filling up and the city plans to help local businesses get involved.
Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, [email protected]