‘Something in the Water’ music festival debuts in Washington, D.C.

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At most music festivals, there’s a mad rush for the front row, but on the first day of Something in the Water, concertgoers craved the shade. They huddled on the pavement, forced more and more hot air onto themselves with handmade paper fans, stretched their legs and nodded their heads to the music. It was hot — scorching — and no amount of free water faucets or cheery sunscreen reminders could take that away.

Still, smiles were pasted on most of the music lovers’ sweaty faces. A festival? In D.C.? It was hard to remember the last time something of this scale made its way to the District.

Until now, Shine Ivuy, 26, had never attended a festival in D.C. despite living in the city for several years. She’s previously had to trek to North Carolina to see her favorite artists. “I’m excited that I finally have a festival that’s local that I can attend,” Ivuy said Friday afternoon, placing a hand on her forehead to shield herself from the sun.

Something in the Water, a three-day music festival created by Pharrell Williams, will run through the weekend. More than 70 musical acts — from Usher and Pusha T to the Dave Matthews Band — and about 54,000 attendees are expected to descend on six blocks of Independence Avenue SW.

Something in the Water hints at something in the air

The highly melanated event is taking place on Juneteenth weekend, a time usually celebrated by free events and inclusive gatherings for D.C.’s Black community. The price tag, however, is hardly accessible. Three-day tickets started at almost $350 ($299 without fees) and quickly sold out. The $50 discounts offered to D.C. and Virginia residents were available for only one day in April.

Those who snagged the coveted wristbands justified the hit to their wallets.

“Last time, he brought out Jay-Z, and I didn’t pay for Jay-Z,” Xavier Jackson, 28, said on Friday, referring to the previous Something in the Water festival he attended. “It’s worth it.”

Six acts you shouldn’t miss at Something in the Water

“When I put in my time-off request, I said it was to celebrate my Blackness,” said Jackson, an Apple employee, as he stood in a long merchandise line with Ivuy. “That’s what this is.”

On Saturday afternoon, groups of 20-somethings in multicolored bucket hats, bohemian pants and jumpsuits jogged to each stage to snag a decent spot. But there was no need. Every angle was perfect, and no matter where people stood in the crowd, the beats vibrated through their ribcages.

During the set by Yvngxchris, a native of Chesapeake, Va., a fan threw futuristic sunglasses onstage for the artist to wear. They didn’t stay on long. Neither did his pants during his second-to-last song, revealing his turquoise paisley boxer briefs.

The cluster of people dancing in front of him weren’t fazed. They continued jumping, their box braids and Afros bouncing to the beat as they filmed on their phones.

“That was the last song, but y’all want more?” Yvngxchris asked them.

“Yeah!” the crowd yelled.

This is the first time the festival is being held in the nation’s capital. Something in the Water was previously staged in Virginia Beach, Pharrell’s hometown. The name is a nod to the cluster of musical talent from the area, such as Missy Elliott, who performed at the 2019 festival, and Pusha T, who was set to perform this weekend.

Williams moved this year’s festival a few months after Virginia Beach police killed his cousin, Donovon Lynch, in March 2021. Following the shooting, Williams proposed that the city hold a forum to “talk about your issues, talk about your struggles.” But, according to Williams, they never did. Six months later, Williams said the city’s “toxic energy” couldn’t be home to the festival. D.C. was chosen instead.

“Ultimately, the goal is for Virginia Beach to realize that they messed up and that they could have just addressed the situation if they wanted to, and they didn’t,” said Jackson, a Virginia Beach native. “I think it makes total sense, what Pharrell did.”

Kristopher Lee, 17, and his mother Karen Lee, 64, attended the concert together and stood far from the stage (though not in the shade — those spots were taken) as Lakeyah rapped on Friday.

“I’ve been wanting to go to this festival since it was at Virginia Beach. He’s here to keep me company,” Karen said as she gestured to her son (whose tall, lean stature bears a strong resemblance to Pharrell — though that’s just a coincidence).

Downtown D.C. street closures for Something in the Water festival

The move from Virginia Beach isn’t the only thing looming over the festival; some were concerned about their safety after recent mass shootings. Even though festival organizers say it will have 800 to 850 guards on the festival grounds during the day, and another 100 patrolling at night, some are making backup plans.

College students Leila and Nalani Butler and Jenai Roberson chose two meeting spots: one in case of a minor emergency, like losing each other in the crowd, and another in the case of something bigger, like gunfire.

“I’m a little more nervous now that it was so easy to get in,” said Roberson, 19, the tip of the Capitol visible behind her on Friday. “We got here early and walked through an open gate. They asked if we had wristbands, and that was it.”

But they don’t regret their decision. A slight bit of fear is worth the freedom of celebration.

“I think we’re just trying our best to be safe,” said Nalani, 20. “All we can do is at least try to plan and savor the good.”

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