‘I can’t risk my life’ — Safety concerns plague Pharrell’s ‘Something in the Water’ festival

As Pharrell Williams’ “Something in the Water” festival made a splash in D.C. this weekend, a slew of concertgoers said that they had concerns for their safety at the event.

Katerra Shackelford bought her three-day passes for $400 and flew in from the Tampa Bay area to attend the festival. But after unpleasant experiences on Friday and Saturday, she told WTOP that she won’t be returning for the final day of the festival.

“Both days were terrible,” Shackelford said. “There’s nowhere to sit down. There’s no shade. There is no water. Even if you’re trying to get to the bathroom you can’t get to it. It was a shitshow.”

A self-described music festival fanatic, Shackelford said she’s been to a variety of festivals, but none were as bad as her experience at “Something in the Water.”

“The difference between this festival and other festivals is that it’s unsafe,” she said. “It’s so overcrowded, you can’t get through the crowds. People are pushing through the crowds because they’re mad that they can’t get through. It’s just very narrow passageways.”

Many people believe that the festival venue and staffing weren’t able to handle the roughly 28,000 ticket holders and that dangerous overcrowding was unavoidable.

A ‘fenced-in’ crowd

Shackelford said that, while in the crowd between performances, she saw a man trying to push through a barricade beaten up by event staff.

She also described seeing several people pass out during the event — induced by heat, dehydration, exhaustion and intoxication — but no urgent medical response.

“You expect the event staff to be safe. You expect that if somebody calls out for help, the medics are going to come,” Shackelford said. “As somebody who goes to festivals … you expect there to be safety protocols in place. And it was clear and obvious that there were none. The staff was untrained.”

Numerous users on Twitter complained of overcrowding and safety concerns — they were denied reentry after briefly leaving festival grounds to get relief from the overcrowding and heat. Many are demanding refunds.

Ngeri Nnachi from Bowie, Maryland, said she was feeling overwhelmed by the chaotic, fenced-in crowd and was told by event staff she would be able to reenter the venue when she returned to see Williams’ performance. When she came back, police and security told her no one was allowed in.

“Eventually another person told us to go to the other entrance on 7th street and, when we got there, another crowd had gathered that was not being allowed in,” Nnachi said. “I caught a police officer on video telling us that no one would be allowed in, so we could contact the box office where we purchased tickets … I began to speak to people exiting who said they were panicking inside, wedged into a crowd of people suffocating.”

Nnachi, who never made it back inside the concert, said the frustrating experience made her decide to not attend Sunday’s events.

“I ended up having to watch snippets of Pharrell and Phriends from a livestream, while incredibly upset that I was right outside,” she said. “I cannot believe I paid this much money to end up not seeing those I wanted to see.”

Personal items and personal safety

Other concertgoers on Twitter claimed their phones had been stolen.

Remi, a Marylander, told WTOP that she felt the festival was too packed to be safe.

“There [were] so many people that you couldn’t even move to get to the water stations or even standing in line for the food. It was just way too overcrowded,” she said.

As temperatures soared into the high 90s on Friday, Remi said she experienced overheating and was sweating profusely while at the festival. But when she tried to escape the packed crowds to access free water, she couldn’t because of event barricades.

On top of safety concerns, festivalgoers also complained about sound distortion and major delays in the event schedule. Shackelford said she didn’t get to see one of her favorite artists and the festival’s Day 1 headliner, Usher, because his performance was delayed by three hours.

And while she enjoyed the musicians, Shackelford said she won’t even attend a “Something in the Water” festival — or future festivals in D.C. — ever again.

“I can’t risk my life. It’s just not safe.”

Twitter user Malcolm Lott, however, said that “despite a few logistic flaws,” the festival was an “outstanding time.”

Another attendee posted on Twitter enthusiasm for the interpreter at the festival who “stole the show.

WTOP has reached out to the event organizers for comment.

WTOP’s Gigi Barnett and Joshua Barlow contributed to this story.

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Lauren Hamilton

Lauren Hamilton is an Associate Producer at WTOP and a graduate of the University of Maryland. She enjoys covering the intersection of arts, culture and social justice in local communities. She began as an intern with WTOP in the summer of 2021.

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