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


'I can't risk my life' - safety concerns plague Pharrell's 'Something in the Water' festival

A crowd of concert-goers at Pharell’s Something in the Water festival have complained that the event was overcrowded and overheated, and they were concerned for their safety.

As Pharrell Williams’ ‘Something in the Water’ festival made a splash in DC this weekend, many concertgoers complained that they were worried about their safety at the event.

Katerra Shackelford bought her three-day passes for $400 and flew in from Tampa, Fla. to attend the festival. But after unpleasant experiences on Friday and Saturday, she told WTOP that she will not be returning on the last day of the festival.

“Both days were terrible,” Shackelford said. “There’s nowhere to sit. There is no shadow. There is no water. Even if you try to get into the bathroom, you cannot reach it. It was a shit show.”

Shackelford, a self-proclaimed music festival fanatic, said she’s been to a variety of festivals, but none as bad as her experience on Something in the Water.

“The difference between this festival and other festivals is that it’s unsafe,” she said. “It’s so crowded, you can’t get through the crowd. People push through the crowd, angry that they can’t get through. It’s just very narrow corridors.”

Many people believe that the festival venue and staffing could not cope with the roughly 28,000 ticket holders and dangerous overcrowding was inevitable.

A “fenced” crowd

Shackelford said that while she was in the crowd between performances, she saw a man attempting to squeeze through a barricade, which was being battered down by event staff while he was still in the crowd.

She also described that several people passed out during the event – caused by heat, dehydration, exhaustion and intoxication – but no urgent medical reaction.

“They expect event staff to be safe. They expect paramedics to come when someone calls for help,” Shackelford said. “As someone who goes to festivals … you expect safety protocols to be in place. And it was clear and obvious that there weren’t any. The staff was untrained.”

Scores of users on Twitter complained about overcrowding and safety concerns – they were denied re-entry after briefly exiting the 1festival site to relieve the overcrowding and heat. Many are asking for refunds.

Ngeri Nnachi, of Bowie, Maryland, said she was overwhelmed by the chaotic, fenced-in crowd and was told by venue staff that she could re-enter the venue if she returned to see Pharell’s performance. When she returned, the police and security told her that no one was allowed to enter.

“Eventually, another person told us to go to the other entrance on 7th Street, and by the time we got there, another crowd had gathered and they weren’t being let in,” Nnachi said. “I caught a police officer on video telling us no one would be let in so we could contact the box office where we bought tickets … I started talking to people who came out and said they were panicked indoors, wedged into a crowd that was suffocating.”

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

“I ended up watching snippets of Pharrell and Phriends from a live stream while being incredibly upset that I was right there,” she said. “I can’t believe I paid so much money not to end up seeing the ones I wanted to see.”

Personal belongings and personal safety

Other concert-goers claimed on Twitter that their phones had been stolen.

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

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

As temperatures soared into the high 90s on Friday, Remi said she was overheated and sweating profusely during the festival. But when she tried to escape the crowds to access free water, event barriers prevented her from doing so.

In addition to safety concerns, festival-goers also complained about audio distortion and significant delays in the event schedule. Shackelford says she was unable to see one of her favorite artists and the festival’s first day headliner, Usher, because his performance was delayed by three hours.

And while she enjoyed the musicians, Shackelford said she will never attend a Something in the Water festival – or any future festivals in DC – again.

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

WTOP has reached out to the organizers of the event for comment.

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

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