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  • Writer's pictureWILLIAM HAZEL

Reflecting on Something in the Water - The best thing that ever happened to Virginia Beach

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

My blood boiled cold when I read the emails. I don’t remember a specific time when nor a place where I first heard the Virginia Beach oceanfront was going to be the happening for an event envisioned, now created, by superstar Pharrell Williams. My first recollections are of the emails.

Surprised by the first, I reread the message several times confirming initial impressions were not misplaced. It was a paragraph ringing of concern. Of warning. Shrugged as anomalous, I answered in short banality thinking the incident completed.

And then came another email, from a different source, with nearly identical outpour. By week’s end, my inbox had a baker’s dozen notes themed from scenarios ranging ripe from sympathetic to downright disastrous. And there were phone calls. And text messages. Questions repeated. Would I be okay? Was it wise? Was I certain? Was it something staff could do so I could stay home?

At the time I worked on the Virginia Beach boardwalk, carrying weighted wants of expanding an organization's mission as community center. The mission suddenly tiger by a tail, as opportunities loomed large with a international supplier using the facility for the event. During the fleeting week the emails flowed, I had met with business managers, marketing managers, public relations directors and event planners, as we worked a thousand details of making Something in the Water a success for all of us. They had come from New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, as well as Virginia Beach. Their energy, vision, and professionalism were unlike anything I had experienced in the previous half decade working in the Virginia Beach boardwalk bubble.

The beach basketball court was just one of many attractions of the Something in the Water festival on the sands of Virginia Beach. Photo by Author.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the initial fear and imagined disaster of friends and acquaintances.

The division had been recently practiced in my region for specific weekends, as police literally closed roads, diverting inbound traffic to outbound lanes in the guise of safety and protectionism. I watched local businesses completely shutter through chosen times in walled protestation. It seemed so outrageously blatant, I expected a national news source might pick up the outburst, though never concluded from which angle it would be shared.

I grew up in the Northeast of America and have never gotten comfortable with the commonality of the bars and thirteen stars since migrating to Virginia.

And still, with the 21st Century almost a quarter spent, I see this divisive symbol almost every day. As stickers on cars or big treaded trucks with don’t tread on me plates. As patches sewn into jean pockets, sleaved in shirts or legged in shorts, and yes, flown as a flag still, either in full or amalgamed interpretation. Waving in winds of hatred, its very design representing division.

The Something in the Water church service stage. Photo by Author.

I also worked in a museum profession that treated what might be the greatest story in American history as a redlined district of exhibition to be displayed only in accompaniment or segregated to a single month.

In the middle of it all, our upstairs office filled with young people working the event, sorting inventory in a crazy sprawl, a young woman talked about not being able to park, wishing she could take a train. And a local rushed retort how Norfolk has a train, but the beach wouldn’t let it come here because they feared “we’d be riding.” And the team leader quipped, “we’re coming in private jets now," and the room erupted with a spontaneous, uproarious laughter I will forever hold as one the most special moments of the week, perhaps of that entire year.

As Something in the Water transformed the oceanfront, I grew deeply respectful of Pharrell Williams, not as an artist, but as a creator. A genuine multiplier. A soul who, through his own creations, organically multiplies opportunities for everyone choosing to embrace, to accept, the free-flowing energy that generates greater connectivity and community. Despite the string of 16 hour days, our energy continued abundant in an undeniable knowledge that we were part of a happening that felt of change, of chance, of opportunity for evolving to a higher plain.

Image of the Author's Something in the Water souvenir shirt. Photo by Author.

The time during the long week felt too short reminded of the sense of purpose swelled in 2008. The feeling that we could, at last, move collectively into the pressured demands of the 21st Century. That feeling of, yes we can, indeed, share and respect how the ugliness of our past brought thought for reason, for acknowledging, for thrusting the lessons of civility forward with purpose greater than self-indulgence or class dominance.

Fragility stood forefront, with every year of ask denied, with every decade of progress receded, with every chance we’ve had squandered, the record of modern history diluted imaginings the event would somehow evoke genuine change. Once the money stopped flowing, it was easier to imagine the return of familiar divisions. Easier to see the sharp turn of 2010 repeating to no we can’t.

And then the great plague divided us by death, the less privileged expected to mass in shallow graves bulldozed by a class system disguised as natural order. The viral devastation magnified by century practiced hatred compelled to continue kneeling on the necks of young and old the same. As all who couldn’t breathe street gathered in century repeated want of humanity, equality of chance, of seats in front of buses. The timeworn culture now so familiar it comes expressed by Williams himself as merely toxic, though murderous more appropriate.

My impression is most of us in our area are hopeful the amazing event will return to our neighborhood shores.

But our hope resides in hearts heavy with doubt. With our basic democracy now weighting Liberty’s scale and supposed leaders local and broad more comfortable in view sixteen hands high, than satellite clear. Tall saddled on their Travelers riding back to preferred times of long grey regiments in rows.

I remain deeply grateful to have experienced Something in the Water from within event boundaries, sharing toil and the lasting connections that yeast from collective opportunity. This was a personal career moment, and more importantly, a once in generation moment proving we can, together, create and live in a more joyous now while agreeing to share the sorrows and pains and lessons of the when.

The emails poured again with after thoughts in that late April of Nineteen. Those days of chance, of early Spring. Notes repeating gratefulness for my safety. Messages of thankfulness that nothing bad had happened. People seemed surprised. Nothing bad, indeed. Nothing bad had happened.

What happened was a 24 million dollar boost t0 the local economy. What happened was 25,000 tickets sold in 20 minutes. Locally the hotel occupancy rate hovered near 100%. Beyond area borders, Virginia Beach stood in a blazing center spotlight on the international music stage.

What had happened was the very best thing Virginia Beach experienced in the modern era. Maybe, just maybe, it was the best thing since the little town grew in 1963, that year of merger and growth, that year just before the great awakenings of '64.

© Copyright William Hazel, 2022

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