WASHINGTON, DC – Shortly after Pharrell Williams introduced a highlight of his hyped set, the reunion of fellow Virginia Beach hip-hop outfit the Clipse, he stopped the show to check on a fan who needed emergency services.
It was not the first time during Saturday’s all-day concert – the second of the three-day Something in the Water festival held on Independence Avenue in DC – that the mini medic van crept through the densely packed audience to tend to a concertgoer.
Just before 10 pm, festival security lined up behind railings placed in front of the festival entrances, not allowing ticketholders back in due to overcrowding even though unlimited re-entry was a stated benefit of the weekend passes.
By the time another of Williams’ “Phrends” – Justin Timberlake – joined him onstage in his best suburban dad-wear of khakis and a short-sleeved button-down shirt to ask, “What’s up, DC?” the pack of attendees closest to the stage surged even tighter.
This was clearly not the most logistically sound idea.
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Williams moved his high-profile event, which he started in 2019, to DC this year after clashing with city management in his Virginia Beach hometown following the shooting death of his cousin in 2021. He liked the symbolism of the nation’s capital and Juneteenth weekend – he was instrumental in helping to make Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021 – but as the first two days of the festival demonstrated, a narrow DC street isn’t the appropriate place to corral 25-30,000 people.
Another heady lineup punctuated Saturday’s concert, with the elegant vibe of Swedish native Snoh Aalegra and visceral rap stylings of Lil Uzi Vert among the notable performances. And while the messy set delays that marred Friday’s gathering were mostly remedied, the festival still dealt with a roulette wheel of changes.
Atlanta rap kingpin TI, initially slated to appear Friday night, instead popped up during Williams’ set to roll through bass-heavy renditions of “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life.” Previously announced performers SZA and Q-Tip were no-shows – which the festival announced via its app earlier in the day– but Post Malone was a surprise add for the Sunday close-out, which also includes Dave Matthews Band, J Balvin, Calvin Harris and Tyler, The Creator.
Another unfortunate reality of setting up three stages – named Sun, Moon and Earth – in an undersized footprint means fans had to decide whether to watch one performance or start the crawl back toward another stage in order to find a few centimeters of space in preparation for the next act.
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Jon Batiste fell prey to the setup. He attracted a decent-sized crowd, but deserved better for his, joy-infused fantastic set opened by The 369th Experience military field band.
Batiste radiated happiness as he and his mega-sized band unleashed the groove-infested “We Are” and horns-and-funk fiesta “Show Me the Way,” a mere two examples of the stew of Afrobeat, R&B, rap, rock and soul he concocts.
As for the man of the night – and the festival – Williams, his vocals were often difficult to discern in the muddy mix (though Timberlake sounded in vintage form on “Senorita” and “My Love”), but the crowd mostly seemed to care about basking in his aura.
In his cool creamsicle-colored sweatshirt and shades, Williams frequently ceded the stage to his impressive dance crew, but returned to the spotlight for the show-closing “Get Lucky.”
Given his hands-on approach with his numerous endeavors in music, business and fashion, let’s hope that Williams has realized that changes need to be implemented if Something in the Water is going to continue to live in DC