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What to Eat (and Expect) at Pharrell’s Major Music Festival in D.C. This Weekend

Houston-born smash burgers, deep-fried watermelon, and half-smokes are all in the mix

D.C.’s vegan venture Pow Pow will sling boxes of General’s chick’n fried rice at Something in the Water.
Shaun Sharkey/Pow Pow

Set to a monumental backdrop along Independence Avenue, the hotly anticipated Something in the Water (SITW) festival drops down in the nation’s capital from Friday, June 17 to Sunday, June 19.

The epic festival’s superstar founder Pharrell Williams wrangled 50 fellow big-name artists, including Justin Timberlake, Calvin Harris, Dave Matthews Band, Tyler The Creator, and Usher, to perform for the weekend around Juneteenth — a now-federal holiday that’s widely observed on Monday, June 20 this year. Three-day passes are still available for $399.50.

While estimated crowd and ticket sale counts are unclear, the 50,000 permitted festival attendees bouncing between stages will have plenty of eats to choose from (outside food and drink is prohibited). Over 30 newly announced vendors were invited to serve on-site, ranging from D.C. favorites to notable imports like Texas-based Trill Burgers, a wildly popular smash burger pop-up backed by Houston rapper Bun B, and Upper East Side’s Neapolitan standby San Matteo Pizzeria.

Bubbie’s will serve its fried chick’n sandwiches and fries.
Shaun Sharkey/Bubbie’s

While Eater is awaiting details on bars and booze, the confirmed food lineup revealed Tuesday, June 14, largely swings local and strays from big chains. D.C.’s iconic half-smoke will come from the city’s standard-bearer itself: Ben’s Chili Bowl. Fast-casual vegan siblings Pow Pow and Bubbie’s Plant Burgers plan to bust out their greatest hits for fans. Pow Pow will send out its General’s chick’n fried rice, Taiwanese fried mozzarella balls, and Firecracker drumsticks.

Other fast-growing homegrown brands represented at SITW include Cuban cafe Colada Shop, Bun’d Up, known for its Taiwanese steamed buns with Korean fillings, and Jamaican food truck Jerk@Nite, which is gearing up to open a brick-and-mortar outpost in Adams Morgan.

SITW vendors, which accept both cash and credit, are all lined up along one restaurant row on Independence Avenue SW. Service runs in tandem with festival hours: 2 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and noon to 11 p.m. on Sunday.

Ticketed attendees will be allowed to enter and exit as many times as needed, and the entry point is along Independence Avenue SW (between 3rd and 9th Streets SW). Here’s some other pertinent information to know about the highly publicized event:

Getting there

With several road closures and limited-to-no public parking in the area, public transportation is the way to go. There are various Metro stops within walking distance, but be warned: major track work this weekend will close five stations on the Orange Line between New Carrollton and Stadium-Armory. Ride share pickup and drop-off points are at 14th Street SW (between Independence to Constitution Avenues SW) and Constitution Avenue SW (between 4th to 14th Streets SW).

Who’s behind the edible lineup

Inter Miami CF Season Opening Party Hosted By David Grutman And Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams at the Goodtime Hotel opening last spring in Miami Beach.
Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

Grammy-winning musician Pharrell Williams is actually a major foodie himself; he moonlights as a big-time restaurateur in Miami, where he runs scene-y staples Strawberry Moon in The Goodtime Hotel and Swan with South Beach hospitality king David Grutman. His SITW team tasked Best Beverage Catering to curate and run the food and beverage program. In the world of high-profile festival and event planning, the full-service group’s nationwide resume is as good as it gets (it’s fed fans at Coachella, Ultra Miami, Electric Zoo, and BottleRock, among many others).

The lineup also showcases small businesses from Virginia Beach, which is Williams’ home town and where the festival got its start in 2019. Options include Italian ice (Sunset Slush), cold brew on tap made with Dominican Republic coffee beans (Niola Cafe); and breakfast eats (Cutta’s Kitchen in Norfolk, Va.). A shuttle bus service is also available from Virginia Beach.

SOMETHING IN THE WATER - Day 3
Pharrell Williams at the inaugural Something in the Water festival in Virginia Beach.
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Something in the Water

Lodging

D.C. hotels located a short walk away are pushing themed packages to get both ticket holders and the general public to book rooms. A “Turn Up & Turn Down” suite stay at downtown’s Hamilton Hotel, for instance, includes cocktails and breakfast at its chic Italian restaurant Via Sophia, an in-room record player to spin vinyls of featured artists at SITW, and a festival essentials kit with water and snacks. For a guide to the best dining bets near the National Mall, go here.

Food highlights at SITW

Southern comfort foods: Find New Orleans classics from Columbia Heights mainstay Creole on 14th; Cajun fried chicken and waffles from Woodbridge, Va.’s Memaw’s Table, and hearty po’boys and Louisiana-style eats from H Street NE stalwart Po’boy Jim.

Comeback eats: SITW marks the revival of crab-topped fries, a destination dish at Anacostia’s Cheers @ The Big Chair before its 2019 closure (owner Dionne Bussey-Reeder dubs her SITW stand “Dionne’s”).

Jerk chicken: Jerk@Nite, which just fueled up high-profile acts at RFK’s Broccoli City Festival, joins other locally-based Caribbean vendors at SITW like Seafood at the Shack and The Kitchen Jerk.

Mexican: Find tacos from roving D.C. pop-up Taco Dirty To Me and Virginia Beach’s Fajita Express.

Ice cream: With temperatures expected to hit the mid-90s on Friday, consider cooling off with scoops from Springfield, Va.’s Paradise Ice Cream and silky gelato and sorbet from D.C.’s Gelat’Oh Truck.

Vegan: Go meatless at West African-leaning Hedzole out of McLean, Va. and D.C.’s Pow Pow and Bubbie’s Plant Burger.

Instagram-worthy picks: Fried chicken-filled waffle cones from Ft. Washington’s decade-old Capital CW; deep-fried watermelon from a carnival-styled outfit out of Bowie, Maryland; and ube-stuffed waffles shaped like fish — a popular Japanese street food from Chantilly, Va.’s Rice Culture that calls itself the area’s only mochi taiyaki shop. Lorton, Va.’s Buddin’ Bakery will also send out sweets.

Meaty options: Maryland offers a strong showing of barbecue (Smokers Delight, Smoke Stacks House of BBQ) and creative riffs on American cookout classics (Dogs on the Curb), plus half-smokes from U Street NW’s 64-year-old icon Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Out-of-town recs: Faraway imports worth checking out include stellar slices from celebrity-packed Italian hotspot San Matteo Pizzeria in NYC, and Texas ground beef patties smashed paper thin on a hot surface from Houston rapper Bun B’s reputable pop-up Trill Burgers.

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