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As the third day of Pharrell Williams‘ Something in the Water festival closed on Sunday, June 19, the problems that plagued the three-day festival persisted.
Mother Nature continued to give attendees glorious weather but crowd congestion, performance delays, and navigating the cramped space were recurring issue. The overcrowding on Saturday night that caused the D.C. Fire Marshal to close down entry to all attendees outside the festival perimeter prior to Williams’ headlining set was avoided as the festival alerted concertgoers that all entry and reentry would end at 10:30 p.m. (When Something in the Water tweeted on Sunday afternoon “Who are you most excited to see today?” one person replied “The inside of the festival that we paid for.”)
The bottleneck design at each stage continued to be a problem but once again, the performers saved the day.
Post Malone, a last-minute addition announced Saturday, did a brief 30-minute set on the Moon Stage in the late afternoon. People wondered why his set was so early and so brief but he was later spotted hanging out at the Garbage/Tears for Fears concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion that night. Even artists fanboy over other artists.
Dave Matthews Band brought the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on stage to join them in a few songs while Pusha-T, who reunited with No Malice as Clipse during Williams’ Saturday night set, showed he had a great sense of humor, having fake (I assume) bricks of cocaine stacked in front of his DJ’s booth.
But the two best sets of the night belonged to Nigerian singer Davido and Ashanti and Ja Rule. Davido brought much-needed laid-back vibes to the festival and it’s a wonder how his band and backup singers were able to fit on the Earth Stage—the smallest stage of the festival. (To get an idea of how small this stage is, it took Davido six steps to walk from one side of the stage to the other.)
Ashanti and Ja Rule tag teamed one another, performing their solo hits along with their duets, garnering the biggest sing-along of the evening and had the crowd longing for the days of Total Request Live.
Offsite, the Pop-Up Church and Community Market offered a much needed reprieve from the cramped crowds of the festival. At the market, people could support Black-owned businesses (all vendors at the festival were Black) and sing karaoke to win concert tickets. Note to programmers: Judging from the New Edition sing-along I witnessed, should you book them for a future festival, the crowd would lose their collective mind.
Still, there was one glaring omission from the lineup. For a festival that’s held in the celebration of Juneteenth and gives reverence to its ancestors, why not honor those performers who truly paved the way for this festival to happen? I’m talking about a performer with a 40- to 50-year career. How wonderful it would be to hear Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, or Gladys Knight echo down Independence Avenue SW. And while Williams’ music career is notable, he did not perform at Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee concert like Diana Ross just did. Glastonbury has had a legend spot for years, with wildly popular performances from artists including Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, and Barry Gibb. This needs to happen on future SITW lineups.
Going forward, should Something in the Water return to D.C., several improvements need to happen. If it stays at its current location on Independence Avenue SW, the crowd size needs to be reduced. Since the National Park Service won’t allow commercial events on the Mall (those pre-Inauguration concerts are free and open to the public), perhaps moving it to a larger avenue is an option.
D.C. is in desperate need of an annual music festival, not having one since HFStival’s last hurrah at RFK Stadium in 2004. Other than the Foo Fighters’ 20th-anniversary event at RFK and the Landmark Music Festival in West Potomac Park in 2015, there hasn’t been a successful attempt to launch another one. Something in the Water could be that festival. But there are numerous issues it would need to fix before launching that boat back into the water.