Pharrell Williams’ Something In The Water Festival Aims To Unite Communities And Celebrate Diversity
Photo By: Paul Morigi/Getty Images

When asked what continues to inspire him to create the way that he does, the legendary multi-hyphenate Pharrell Williams told ESSENCE: “That which does not exist.”

On the weekend of Juneteenth, Williams brought his Something In The Water festival to Washington D.C.’s Independence Avenue. Throughout the event’s three days, it featured thought-provoking panel discussions and workshops, a community market, a pop-up church service, and performances from some of the world’s top talents. The festival was first held in the award-winning producer’s hometown of Virginia Beach in 2019, but since then, so much has changed. Due to the death of his 25-year-old cousin Donovan Lynch at the hands of a police officer, Williams moved Something In The Water to the nation’s capital, saying that the local municipal government of VA Beach has to change the way that they operate.

“Maybe, but they have a lot of work to do,” Williams responded to whether he would ever bring his festival back to Virginia. “They didn’t treat the loss of my cousin’s life with respect, you know? Until we start seeing them treat marginalized communities the same way they treat the well-to-do, then why should I do that? I think leadership needs to change, a lot of the decision makers, a lot of things need to change.”

Pharrell Williams’ Something In The Water Festival Aims To Unite Communities And Celebrate Diversity
Nicolita Bradley

“But my love for the people there, the people of Virginia Beach – they’re out here tonight,” he continued. “They were out here last night, they’re out here today. That’s never going to change. I still support Virginia Beach for sure. I got a commercial project coming up, we’re getting ready to put shovels on the ground now, right there on the oceanfront. A 300-million-dollar project – we’re there. I’m never going to leave my city.”

The feat of creating the non-existent has always been a passion for Williams, and his festival proved to be no different. Following a panel focusing on the history of GoGo music in D.C., an NAACP roundtable about student debt, and the Elephant in the Room forum, day one of the festival’s concerts kicked off with a bang. Across three stages along Independence Avenue, fans gathered for incredibly energetic sets from ESSENCE cover star Lucky Daye, Tobe Nwigwe, Roddy Ricch, Duckwrth, and several others. Usher closed out the night and performed many of his classic hits in an exciting atmosphere.

Saturday night proved to be one of the highlights of this monumental weekend. Prior to Pharrell’s headlining performance, the audience was able to enjoy artists such as Jon Batiste, Lil Uzi Vert, Rae Sremmurd, Snoh Aalegra, J.I.D., Chlöe x Halle, Backyard Band, Adekunle Gold, and more.

Pharrell Williams’ Something In The Water Festival Aims To Unite Communities And Celebrate Diversity
Photo By: Nicolita Bradley

As the evening drew to a close, Williams began his “Pharrell & Phriends” set, which included appearances from N.O.R.E., T.I., and Justin Timberlake, who danced to his hits “Senorita,” “Rock Your Body,” “My Love,” “Sexy Back,” and “Like I Love You.” Pharrell then welcomed Clipse, who performed “Mr. Me Too,” “What Happened To That Boy,” “Cot Damn,” and “Grindin’.” What was special about Pusha T and Malice being on stage, was that it was the first time they rocked the crowd together in over a decade.

Williams spoke glowingly about the duo’s historic reunion on that D.C. evening, saying: “It was an honor – because it’s not promised. Nothing’s promised, man.”

“Just to see those two on stage and back at it, it was beautiful,” he added. “You see Pusha and he’s really doing him, and Malice is at a point where, I think he enjoyed himself. He’s just such a prolific writer, and his artistry is just different. So, the fact that we were able to get his attention, and this is something that he wanted to lend his energy to, I was honored – I was very honored.”

Pharrell Williams’ Something In The Water Festival Aims To Unite Communities And Celebrate Diversity
Photo By: Greg Noire

The third and final day of the festival began with free events for the community such as the DC+XQ Community Market that showcased local vendors, merchants, entrepreneurs, and entertainers representing DC’s unique and vibrant culture in food, art, and music. In West Potomac Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Pop-Up Church was held for free, and included music, gospel choirs, and dance ministries. It featured guest speakers and performances from Jon Batiste, Tamela Mann, Tamar Braxton, and a list of others.

On Independence Ave, Sunday’s entertainers were Pusha T, Earthgang, Denzel Curry, Saba, Blxst, Thundercat, Dave Matthews Band, and more. Ashanti and Ja Rule had a nostalgic set on the festival’s Earth Stage, while Tyler, the Creator shut down the Sun Stage with an electrifying performance, bringing out Williams and 21 Savage from their new hit “Cash In, Cash Out.”

During the performance, Tyler paused to give Pharrell his flowers, calling him “the greatest producer of all time.” When reminded of when that was said, Williams told ESSENCE: “I believe Quincy Jones is the best to ever do it. So, when people say it to me, it kind of throws me off. Because I’m not that. What I am, is a huge fan of music and I’m just very grateful to be able to continue to do what I love to do.”

Pharrell Williams’ Something In The Water Festival Aims To Unite Communities And Celebrate Diversity
Greg Oribhabor

For many, Something In The Water 2022 was an amazing experience, and was able to unite communities, celebrate diversity and empower everyone from the youth to small business owners in Washington, DC and the surrounding areas. Out of everything that was accomplished with this event, Williams spoke to what he felt was most important of the festival, and the energy he wanted it to encompass.

“Love,” Williams said. “And I say ‘love’ because what I really want to say is comradery, but what’s deeper than comradery? What does the father give us? Love. Comradery is just one expression of that. But love, that’s what it’s about. That’s what this festival is about.”