Pharrell Williams is pulling his Something in the Water festival from his hometown, Virginia Beach, Va. The singer/producer announced his intentions in a pointed letter to city manager Patrick Duhaney, in which he said that despite his best intentions, he can no longer throw the annual event there due to what he called a “toxic” environment.
In the letter dated Tuesday (Oct. 5), Pharrell said that he brought Something to “my beloved 757” in 2019 in an effort to ease racial tension, unify the region and bring some economic opportunities to the local business community. “We achieved those things! I wish the same energy I’ve felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative’s life,” Williams wrote according to a copy of the letter posted by WAVY 10.
In April, the Grammy-winning Williams called for a federal investigation into the fatal police shooting of his cousin, Donovon Lynch, 25, along the Virginia coast. Lynch was killed in the early morning hours of March 27 along the city’s popular oceanfront strip of hotels and restaurants shortly after two other nearby shootings unleashed chaos. Police said Lynch, a Black man, had a handgun and that it was recovered from the scene.
The officer’s body camera had not been activated; the officer who killed Lynch was also Black. The city’s police department later turned over the investigation into Lynch’s death to the Virginia State Police.
“I love my city, but for far too long it has been run by — and with toxic energy. The toxic energy that changed the narrative several times around the homicide of my cousin, Donovon Lynch, a citizen of Virginia, is the same toxic energy that changed the narrative around the mass murder and senseless loss of life at Building Number 2,” Williams continued in his letter, referring to a May 2019 mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center that left 12 people dead and four injured.
A spokesperson for Williams confirmed the contents of the letter, but said Pharrell has not yet announced whether the festival will return in 2022 in a different location; Duhaney’s office had not returned requests for comment at press time.
According to WAVY, Williams’ letter came in response to a Sept. 26 note from Duhaney in which he said he felt “immense disappointment” upon learning that SITW would not be held in the city in 2022. After the inaugural 2019 fest — featuring sets from A$AP Rocky, Beck, Chance the Rapper, Clipse, Foo Fighters, Gunna and many more — had a reported $24 million economic impact, the 2020 and 2021 events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After thanking Pharrell for his “unwavering support and commitment” to the city over the years, Duhaney’s letter said that he and the city’s mayor wanted to “fully understand the sentiment that has brought us to this point. With great humility we hope that you and Festival leadership might be willing to meet with us in person to discuss our partnership.” The letter also noted that the media coverage of the region thanks to the festival had an estimated value of $41 million.
“As impressive as those figures are, they are just that — numbers,” Duhaney wrote. “We have not lost sight of the intangible, unquantifiable impact the festival has had on the social fabric of our community.” Duhaney requested a meeting with Williams and his team to plot a path forward; Williams did not address that request for a meeting in his note.
When reached by Billboard, Virginia Beach Mayor Robert “Bobby” Dyer sent this statement: “We understand the intense interest in and concern about how Mr. Williams feels and about the future of Something in the Water. We reached out to him because we had heard rumors of concerns and wanted to talk with him to see what we could do to address them. The invitation remains open. We would welcome the opportunity to talk with him, to hear first-hand the specific concerns he has. Going forward with Something in the Water was one of the first major decisions I had to make after being elected in 2019. Not everyone thought it was the right thing to do, but I believed it would be good for Virginia Beach, and it was a huge success. We lost momentum last year because of COVID, but it was our intention then, and it remains now, to host the event in 2022. We see it as a catalyst for promoting positivity and that’s why the manager and I still want to talk. We’re hopeful Pharrell will accept.”