Pharrell is criticizing the city of Virginia Beach for what he calls its “toxic energy,” which has led the musician to pull his Something in the Water Festival from his hometown. Local Virginia Beach news outlets reported on Wednesday that the festival, which debuted in 2019 but did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would not return to the city in 2022. In a letter to city leadership, Pharrell Williams referenced the March police killing of his cousin, Donovan Lynch, in Virginia Beach, along with a 2019 mass shooting in the city, drawing a line between “the toxic energy that changed the narrative” on both events. “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,” he wrote. A festival organizer since confirmed to WTKR News 3 that the festival would not take place in the city. “We are all disappointed, but hopefully, this can be a catalyst for positive change for our city in the future,” said Donna MacMillan-Whitaker.
Pharrell’s letter was a response to a September letter from the city manager, Patrick A. Duhaney, “to express the immense disappointment” in Something in the Water possibly not returning to Virginia Beach. That letter invited Pharrell to a meeting with Duhaney and the mayor, Bobby Dyer. After Pharrell’s reply, Dyer told WAVY-TV he still wanted to meet with the musician. “We are going to try to be positive about this and we are going to try to make a case that, you know, we are moving forward,” he said.
Lynch was killed on March 26, by Solomon Simmons III, a police officer. Virginia Beach police claimed Lynch showed a gun (Lynch’s family said he was legally allowed to carry a firearm), but an eyewitness later disputed that. A grand jury was investigating the shooting in September, and reportedly summoned the attorney of Lynch’s father, who had filed a $50 million lawsuit against the officer and the city in June, to appear.
In his letter, Pharrell wrote, “Until the gatekeepers and the powers-that-be consider the citizens and the consumer base, and no longer view the idea of human rights for all as a controversial idea … I don’t have a problem with the city, but I realize the city hasn’t valued my proposed solutions, either.”