VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Three years ago today, festivalgoers packed the Virginia Beach Oceanfront for Something in the Water.
George Frank, owner of Sunnyside Café & Restaurant at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, said business boomed the weekend of April 26, 2019.
"It brings a lot of business to the Oceanfront, and we were expecting a lot more," said Frank.
In 2019, leaders with Virginia Beach said the festival had a $21 million economic impact on the city. The festival sold out of 25,000 tickets in 21 minutes, and hotel occupancy was at 90%.
According to Frank, the earnings generated by Something in the Water helped support his business for several weeks after the event. The festival leaving is a tough pill to swallow.
"Hopefully, maybe, in the next few years, it will come back," Frank said.
Frank and others assumed the festival would be the pride and joy of Virginia Beach for years to come.
But earlier this week, music icon and Hampton Roads native Pharrell Williams announced the event will take place on the National Mall in Washington D.C. on Juneteenth weekend.
Some Virginia Beach leaders disagree over where to place blame for the loss of Something in the Water.
“It’s an absolute failure and it’s a lack of leadership," said Virginia Beach City Councilman Aaron Rouse.
Last fall, Williams indicated he didn’t want to bring the festival back to Virginia Beach, citing "toxic energy" and the city’s response to the death of his cousin, Donovon Lynch, by a city police officer.
"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," Pharrell wrote in his letter last year.
Lynch was shot and killed by a police officer on March 26, 2021, at the Oceanfront.
Rouse said he is glad the festival will continue not too far away, but he said the city's failure goes beyond the leadership's response to Lynch's death.
Rouse, who served as the festival liaison in 2019, claims city leaders failed to solidify a good working relationship with Williams.
“When the city asked for Pharrell’s help, he showed up in a major way, and that is not something you just forget," Rouse said Wednesday. "You have a festival that not only was culturally beneficial, but it also brought in a lot of dollars. So to not solidify that, bewilders me."
Mayor Bobby Dyer disagrees.
“It was not, by any account, the fault of the city," said Dyer. "It was just a set of unfortunate, unforeseen circumstances.”
Dyer told 13NewsNow he is disappointed in the loss and claims Virginia Beach leaders, in the last year, worked to make the community safer and more inclusive, though he said there’s still work to be done. He cited the recently assembled Mayor's Taskforce to explore inclusion, equity and diversity in Hampton Roads communities.
He said the city is starting to regain events lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing Yuengling Shamrock Marathon Weekend, which drew more than 20,000 participants in March.
Dyer said he's "confident" that with time and conversation, Virginia Beach will regain Something in the Water too.
“I think there are some misunderstandings out there, that when Pharrell and I do sit down, and I will continue to extend the olive branch, that we can iron things out,” Dyer said.
Dyer said he’s still hoping to have a meeting with Pharrell in the future.
When asked what he thinks it will take to bring the festival back to Virginia Beach, Rouse said, "There's an election coming up in November."
Pharrell ended his letter to the city in 2021 with the following statement:
"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 that city hasn't valued my proposed solutions, either."
"We're moving in the right direction, and we just want the opportunity to explain to Pharrell what we have been doing," Dyer said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, pre-sale started Wednesday for previous festival attendees. On Friday, there’s another pre-sale for people who live in Virginia.
Everyone can buy passes starting Saturday, April 30.