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“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, audiences crave the shade. They huddled on the sidewalk, forced more and more hot air on themselves with handmade paper fans, stretched their legs and nodded to the music. It was hot – scorching – and no amount of free water taps or cheery sunscreen reminders could take that away.

Still, smiles were plastered on most music lovers’ sweaty faces. A festival? In DC? It was hard to remember the last time something of this magnitude had visited the District.

Until now, 26-year-old Shine Ivuy had never attended a festival in DC despite living in the city for several years. She has already had to travel to North Carolina to see her favorite artists. “I’m thrilled to finally have a local festival that I can attend,” Ivuy said Friday afternoon, placing a hand to her forehead to shield herself from the sun.

Something in the Water, a three-day music festival created by Pharrell Williams, will run all 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 alludes to something in the air

The highly-melanated event takes place the weekend of June 16, a time typically celebrated with free events and inclusive gatherings for DC’s black community. The price tag, however, is hardly accessible. Three-day tickets started at nearly $350 ($299 free) and sold out quickly. The $50 discounts offered to DC and Virginia residents were only available for one day in April.

Those who snagged the coveted bracelets justified the blow to their wallets.

“Last time he released 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 Must-See Acts at Something in the Water

“When I asked for time off, I said it was to celebrate my blackness,” Jackson, an Apple employee, said as he stood in a long line of merchandise with Ivuy. “It is what it is.”

On Saturday afternoon, groups of 20-somethings wearing multi-colored bucket hats, bohemian pants and jumpsuits raced through each stage to snag a decent spot. But it was not necessary. Every angle was perfect, and no matter where people stood in the crowd, the beats throbbed through their ribcages.

During Chesapeake, Va. native Yvngxchris’ set, a fan threw futuristic sunglasses on stage for the performer to wear. They didn’t stay long. Neither did his pants during his penultimate song, revealing his turquoise cashmere boxer shorts.

The group of people dancing in front of him were not fazed. They kept jumping, their box braids and Afros bouncing to the beat as they filmed on their phones.

“It was the last song, but you want more?” Yvngxchris asked them.

“Yeah!” shouted the crowd.

This is the first time the festival has been held in the nation’s capital. Something in the Water has already been staged in Virginia Beach, Pharrell’s hometown. The name is a nod to the group of musical talents in the area, such as Missy Elliott, who performed at the 2019 festival, and Pusha T, who was due to perform this weekend.

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

“At the end of the day, the goal is for Virginia Beach to realize that they screwed up and they could have fixed the situation if they wanted to, and they didn’t,” Jackson said, originally from Virginia Beach. “I think it makes perfect sense, what Pharrell did.”

Kristopher Lee, 17, and his mother Karen Lee, 64, attended the concert together and stood away from the stage (but not in the shade – these spots were taken) as Lakeyah rapped on Friday.

“I’ve wanted to go to this festival since it was in Virginia Beach. He’s here to keep me company,” Karen said, pointing to her son (whose tall, skinny build looks a lot like Pharrell — though that’s just a coincidence).

Downtown DC street closures for Something in the Water festival

The Virginia Beach move isn’t the only thing threatening the festival; some worried about their safety after recent mass shootings. Even though festival organizers say it will have 800-850 guards on the festival grounds during the day, and another 100 patrolling at nightsome make backup plans.

Students Leila and Nalani Butler and Jenai Roberson chose two meeting points: one in case of a minor emergency, like getting lost in the crowd, and another in case of something more serious, like gunfire.

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

But they do not regret their decision. A little fear is worth the freedom to celebrate.

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

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