Pharrell Cancels Virginia Festival, Cites Toxic Leadership Among Concerns

In Summary

The Virginia native is demanding accountability from city officials for the “toxic energy” of leadership since the police killing of his cousin and a mass shooting at Virginia Beach.  

Pharrell Williams announced on Wednesday that his Something in the Water Festival will not return to his hometown of Virginia Beach in 2022. He shared the news in a letter to city manager Patrick Duhaney.  

In the letter, Williams cited the “toxic energy” in local government as the reason for his decision. He pointed to the police killing of his 25-year-old cousin Donovon Lynch in March. According to reports, a Virginia Beach police officer shot and killed Lynch. The circumstances of his death are disputed because the officer’s body camera was off.   

“I love my city, but for far too long it has been run by and with toxic energy,” Williams wrote. “The toxic energy that changed the narrative several times around the homicide of my cousin, Donovan 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,” the letter reads.  

RELATED:  Cousin of Pharell Williams shot, killed by police in Virginia Beach 

Building Number 2 is the location of a 2019 mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, which left 12 dead and four injured.  

According to, following the death of his cousin, the “Happy” singer urged city officials to create solutions for the violence.  

Williams went on to criticize the city’s enthusiasm for hosting the Something in the Water Festival, a platform he believes worked to make a bridge of inclusivity and unity among residents.  

“I’ve always loved the city of Virginia Beach and most importantly our people. It’s a part of my beloved 757,” he wrote, 757 being the region’s area code. 

 Williams’ letter continues: “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.”  

RELATED: Jay-Z, Pharrell to release new song about Black ambition 

Duhaney responded to Williams’ letter, expressing some regret after learning the festival would be canceled.   

Virginia Beach mayor Bob Dyer also addressed the controversy in a statement, saying: “We understand the intense interest in and concern about how Mr. Williams feels and about the future of ‘Something in the Water.’ We reached out to him because we had heard rumors of concerns and wanted to talk with him to see what we could do to address them. The invitation remains open.”  

Pharrell remains adamant on not holding the festival, which was established in 2019 in Virginia Beach. 

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