VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Something in the Water Festival will not return to Virginia Beach in 2022 – or possibly ever – after creator Pharrell Williams said the city is run by a “toxic energy” and leaders haven’t valued his input.
In a letter to Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney on Tuesday, the 48-year-old singer and entrepreneur from Virginia Beach said the festival was successful in easing racial tensions, unifying the region and bringing about economic development opportunities. However, he said the same energy has not been reciprocated.
“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. A police officer shot and killed Williams’ cousin, 25-year-old Donovan Lynch, on March 26.
In the wake of Lynch’s death, Williams called on city leaders to “talk about your issues, talk about your struggles so we can get past them.” He also proposed a forum for the City of Virginia Beach to discuss “who we were, who we are, and who we’d like to be.”
Many residents and community leaders have demanded answers about Lynch’s death. The officer who fired the fatal shot did not have his body-worn camera turned on at the time. Police also said Lynch brandished a weapon before he was shot, which his family disputes. His family also says Lynch was legally allowed to carry a gun.
“I love my city, but for far too long it has been run by – and with toxic energy,” Williams said. “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.”
Building Number 2 refers to the location of a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center that left 12 people dead and four injured.
Williams’ Oct. 5 letter was in response to a letter dated Sept. 26 from Duhaney who said he felt “immense disappointment” after he learned Something in the Water may not be held in 2022. While the 2020 and 2021 festivals were canceled over COVID-19 concerns, the initial 2019 festival had an estimated economic impact of more than $24 million.
“As impressive as those figures are, they are just that – numbers. We have not lost sight of the intangible, unquantifiable impact the festival has had on the social fabric of our community,” Duhaney wrote.
Donna MacMillan-Whitaker, who helped organize the initial festival and is a founder and managing partner of Venture Realty Group, said there will not be a Something in the Water festival in 2022 – at least, not in Virginia Beach. Additional details on what that could mean were not provided.
Duhaney asked that Williams and festival leadership meet with the city before making any final decisions on the festival.
In his response, Williams didn’t address that invitation.
Instead, Williams ended by saying that “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 any problems with the city, but I realize the city hasn’t valued my proposed solutions either.”
Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse, who was the council liaison to Something in the Water, told WAVY, “There is no understanding about what he might mean by [toxic energy] but again just take a look at our city. We have a lot of work to do. We must face our issues head-on.”
He said Williams’ letter did not surprise him and, at this point, he is not confident in the ability of the city to mend the relationship. He said there was no leadership following the shooting on March 26.
“There was a lack of leadership when that happened. Myself and another colleague had to call a special session,” he said. “You must provide more updates on the investigation into the deaths of Donovan Lynch and Deshayla Harris.”
Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer also hopes to find a way to move forward.
“We’re disappointed that he’s feeling that way. Something in the Water was very, very big and positive for the City of Virginia Beach. Unfortunately last year with the COVID, we had to cancel it. But one again … the manager and I want to connect with Pharrell, sit down talk things out and that’s what we’re going to take. 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,” Dyer said.