VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Starting Friday, the Virginia Beach Oceanfront will be filled with thousands of people for the return of Something in the Water. As we prepare for its return, 10 On Your Side is looking into the History in the Water.
If you were in Virginia Beach in 2019, you know how it felt. The music, the energy, the community and more were all contagious and all part of the inaugural Something in the Water festival.
It all started with a request from one man.
“My role was very minor,” said now-retired Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera.
A few years ago, there was a problem in the Resort City. What was known as College Beach Weekend filled the beach with students, but often ended in trouble.
“We had a number of violent issues over the years on that particular week,” Cervera said in a recent interview.”
He reached out to Pharrell’s team with a request.
“Really what I was looking at was some kind of messaging that he could send to the public because he is a big name,” Cervera said.
Pharrell came back with an idea of his own.
“His vision was to have a positive weekend, but also to be filled with community interaction,” he said.
So a small meeting took place in Virginia Beach.
“He grew up here, he knows the city, he was looking at the negative end of what this was portraying for the city, he knew we were much better than that as a community,” Cervera said. “So the minute he heard it, internally, he just stood up and said ‘We’re going to have a festival’.”
Just eleven weeks later, Something in the Water came to life at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. By all accounts, it was an incredible success.
“We were ecstatic that we were able to show that citizens come together, have a positive event,” Cervera said. “That the police and community work together to build a better city.”
Many people hoped the festival would return the following year, but the COVID-19 pandemic put it on hold for two years.
Then came the fatal shooting of Pharrell’s cousin, Donovon Lynch, at the hands of police. Pharrell sent a letter to the city, citing its “toxic energy,” before sharing his intent to move the festival to Washington, D.C., which is where it was in 2022.
“We can’t just turn a blind eye or think that we live in a bubble or we don’t have those issues, because every community faces those issues,” said State Sen. Aaron Rouse (D-Virginia Beach).
Rouse was the Virginia Beach City Council liaison to the festival in 2019. He said the city worked hard to repair its relationship with Pharrell.
“With any relationship, you have growing pains, as well,” Rouse said. “Our inability to face our issues head on can sometimes cause you to stop and reexamine where are we in that relationship. I’m so thankful for Mr. Williams for keeping that line of communications open, keeping that line of communications strong, so we can have an opportunity to bring it back.”
When it was announced that it would return, city leaders were excited.
“It feels like its coming back home, and this is where it should be,” said Virginia Beach Councilwoman Jennifer Rouse. “If you looked at the crowd, it was generations, all different backgrounds of folks here vibing, and feeling a sense of belonging.
Jennifer Rouse is the liaison for this year’s festival.
“2019, it was unknown and it was brand new,” she said, “so there’s a lot of ‘what is this’ and what its going to look like? How big? How small? How dangerous? So there were a lot of questions, a lot of unknowns.”
This year, those are gone.
“I think the city has a really good grasp on what to expect this time around,” she said.
“I was extremely excited about that for the city, I was extremely excited for the citizens,” Cervera said. “I don’t know the operations plan, but I know its going to be be extremely perfect because that’s what our police, fire and rescue squads do.”
And his whole goal – to make College Beach Weekend safer – has created something for everyone. Cervera also said that after the first year of the festival, Pharrell held a barbecue for all of the local first responders to say thank you.
“The messaging for this festival is belonging,” Jennifer Rouse said. “The festival belongs here, but all these festival goers and all the members of the community belong here, too.”