Pharrell Williams created the Something in the Water festival, which hit Virginia Beach this weekend, as an ode to whatever magical, intangible substance exists in Virginia’s bodies of water. There’s definitely something in the water; that part isn’t up for debate. This state has birthed some of music’s most creative minds in Pusha T, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, and Pharrell himself. On the first day of what will become an annual event, Pharrell cast a spell over the boardwalk: A cavalcade of the biggest performers in music took everyone into a dimension separated from time and space for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
On Saturday (April 27), the boardwalk, decorated with pink, orange, blue, and brown signs bearing the name of the festival, was filled with anxious attendees, the excitement showing as their phones spun around to capture the massive crowds. The festival was originally slated to start Friday, but inclement weather shut it down. The next day, it took place in a vast sand oasis by the magical water, where a gigantic stage was erected, emblazoned with “SOMETHING IN THE WATER” in playful script. The soft voices and electronic hum of Radiant Children served as an introductory set into the festival’s atmosphere as people got acclimated to the scene. Sets came fast and furious with the time under the sun evaporating as the temperature escalated. Rising Spanish star Rosalía, soul-pop maestro Amber Mark, and indie-jam everyman Mac DeMarco offered powerful, funk- and pop-tinged songs that massaged the shoulders of each and every person in the crowd.
Party organization Trap Karaoke kicked things up a notch with perhaps the world’s largest continuous swag surf. After a touching video about the dance’s purpose to bring awareness to the fight against blood cancers, the beat sounded off onstage like a warning signal and mating call – everyone to your station; it’s about to go down. Arms interlocked and left hands were raised in the air for the synchronous dance that probably warded off any more rain for the weekend. The crowd was amped afterwards. And so the show barreled on.
A$AP Ferg came first with an exhilarating set packing his most popular records. He rode onstage with friends on a bike, with gold fronts exposed as he grinned devilishly at the audience. He’d flash those teeth throughout his performance as beach balls and footballs bounced around the crowd. Kaytranada bathed the crow in the energy of midnight with his calm electric set. J Balvin brought a nice change of pace, injecting the crowd with his energy.
SZA, meanwhile, looked angelic as she glided across the stage during her ethereal set. Her performance of “The Weekend” was a highlight as the audience clung to every word of the infidelity anthem. After a brief delay, Travis Scott’s fiery set (literally) defied any expectations, with plumes of crimson and orange erupting around him without warning while he roared into the tiny microphone. These vastly different, captivating sets were all preparation of sorts for a statement from Pharrell and his surprise cast of collaborators. And what a statement it was.
Pharrell brought out a storm of legendary performers: Snoop Dogg; Tyler, the Creator; Charlie Wilson; Timbaland; Missy Elliott; Diddy; N.E.R.D.; Busta Rhymes; Usher; and Magoo all transferred the collective consciousness back to the ’90s and early-to-mid 2000s. During Pharrell’s performance of his 2004 single “Frontin,” he let the beat build as a performer walked onstage from the left side quietly. The crowd erupted, and the dark beach was illuminated with cell-phone lights capturing the legendary moment. This mysterious figure who carried the weight of what felt like the world with him as he revealed himself, was Jay-Z. He performed a number of his biggest, most nostalgic numbers, including “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “La La La.”
After the nostalgic set, Virgil Abloh came on for the intimate final set of the night, soundtracking the slowly dispersing crowd, tired from a day of enchanting sets on the beach. It was a peaceful scene as the moon illuminated the boardwalk and people walked blocks to their cars. I caught wind of several breathless recaps of the day’s sets, from A$AP Ferg’s electric performance of “New Level,” to Jay-Z shedding his large coat as he strode onstage with a solemn look on his face as if to say, “Surprise” (with a period instead of an exclamation point). I even joined a couple of stray conversations as well, all staring wide-eyed into the stars and used them for screens from our memories, in awe of the day’s events.
The first true day of Something In The Water was an undeniable success. As a Virginia native (Hampton to be specific), I took great pride in seeing the atmosphere and experience of an epic festival at my stomping grounds. Now, I can prepare to immerse myself in this spell again today. This is the “something” that resides in the water. It’s hard to put into words, but it can be felt. You had to have been there; you’d know what I was talking about.