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"Something in the Water"= Something in the Community Connection

Posted by Chip Block on May 1, 2019 8:00 PM EDT
Chip Block photo

The huge success of this past weekend's first ever three-day music and community connection event, Something in the Water, provides a number of great lessons....

...for all of us who have a vested interest in seeing communities improve in their prosperity, well being and who believe that people working together and applying new approaches can have remarkable success.

For people who don't live in the Coastal Virginia region (aka Hampton Roads) and have never visited Virginia Beach or historical areas such as Williamsburg and Norfolk, the community-wide three-day festival of music and activities that occurred this past weekend in the older section of Virginia Beach's resort area may not have heard of the event called Something in the Water.  In short, it was an enormous success, with the centerpiece of the event centering on three days of great live music from a cross-section of well-known musicians and bands.  Over 35,000 tickets were sold for the three-day event at prices that began at over $150 and up.

Its visionary leader, who built the organization to plan and produce the three-day event was Pharrell Williams, the well-known musician and music promoter whose acclaim has grown with appearances as a judge on The Voice and through his many popular songs, including "Happy".  Pharrell is a resident of Virginia Beach and grew up in the town and region.  He wanted to create something special as a tribute to the region and as a way to help bring it together.

To say it was a huge success is an understatement.  To say it was easy to put together is an even more ridiculous understatement since he chose to use the college beach weekend as the time to launch the new concept of music and more called "Something in the Water".

If there were obstacles and reasons it would not work-especially with less than a year to get the City of Virginia Beach's government to sign off on it and to put the event pieces together.  Here are just a few of them:

-College spring break weekend has been a problem due to overcrowding and some violence in past years

-The event had never been done in this region or any other in the southeast US before

-The first day of the three-day event was "stormed out", heavy rains and dangerous thunderstorms and tornado threats prompted it to be canceled

-While the event drew on substantial support from City services, it did not require financial subsidization for event development and operations costs

-The level of coordination and collaboration across many different entities was unprecedented

So, against these odds, what are the key lessons that can be learned and why would we consider this first-time event to be an example of a strong collaborative collective impact in support of wellbeing?

Here are a few reasons we think are important:

-Community well being and social wellbeing are two of the five key elements of wellbeing according to Gallup Inc. research

-Without cross-community support in the planning, production, operation, and promotion of the event it never would have achieved its unprecedented success without collaboration and innovative new ways to provide services

-A charismatic and trusted leader figure like Pharrell Williams can sell a vision and garner support.  Credibility is important and Pharrell has it!

-A meaning that is larger than just the event itself and its features is key to garnering the sort of "got to be there" mentality that drove the event.  Building community cohesiveness and connectedness were in the air of Something in the Water.  On every public and private conversation, Pharrell made before, during and after the event was a success, he gave credit to the community and the people.  A consistent, necessary and trustworthy message from a powerful spokesperson is important in selling a vision.

-A big idea matters, but without a relentless focus on execution and communication within the network of key players and to the public is key

-Humble but powerful leaders who give credit to others for success are levers for galvanizing remarkable levels of efforts from followers and fans.

It is now a foregone conclusion that this event will live on and be put together for subsequent years.  The question is how can the organizers and the community that so eagerly supported it in year one against all odds, sustain it in following years?  There is something in the formula of Something in the Water and the power of a great experience that touches people of all ages, genders, religious persuasions, and races and builds community connectedness can be something to build upon in the years ahead.

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