Tramlines: Sheffield’s Free Festival

Us students love a festival, and what’s not to love? A weekend of brilliant music fuelled with alcohol surrounded by your mates… at a £200 plus fee? Okay, maybe not.

As years go by, more and more festivals seem to be popping up to lure us in and empty our pockets, with amazing line ups and located in fabulous destinations. Once you’ve paid for one, plus thought about spending money and travel costs, it’s near impossible to even consider looking at another, especially in today’s economical climate. “You could get a holiday for that price!” I’ve heard my mother shriek as I’ve tried to  justify how much I planned to spend over 3 days in a muddy field with my Argos tent.

Then I moved to Sheffield, and things changed.

Some of the thousands of fans who attended over this year's weekend at Tramlines, Sheffield.

Only since 2009 has Tramlines been running as, get this, a completely free music festival. Brought together by the Sheffield City Council, local promoters and Musical Works in just 5 months, the first of this festival saw 35,000 people fill the city centre and that’s how it all kicked off into being a now annual event.

I went along last year for the first time after hearing the Tramlines buzz through my university, and 125,000 people obviously heard the same buzz too. It was surreal how such an urbanised city centre could transform into a diversely cultural music event in over 70 different venues. I loved it.

The venues range from bars playing host to an array of small bands and upcoming singers, to the main stage on Devonshire Green at the heart of the city centre, where the headliners of the whole weekend will perform to the majority of the visitors that Tramlines attract. The clubs are full to the brim with current DJs, and local promoters will give you a taste of the nights that they run all year in Sheffield too.

So yeah as I previously stated, the main point of it is that it’s free for all. Obviously that’s great but like anything that seems too good to be true, there’s usually some kind of catch. And that’s no different in this instance. How many people do you think want a piece of something for nothing? Everyone does. Of course they do. This means there is no guaranteed entry for any event, and there are queues round the block and up roads to get into venues, up to 4 or 5 hours long in some cases.

Another issue is the quality of the acts. Okay, Sheffield prides itself in producing some fine local bands and that’s great and all, but don’t expect current bands just off the plane fresh from a World tour. What the festival is great at bringing, however, is a diverse mix of acts from different cultures to different genres and putting them all on around the city offering something for everyone. And actually a few well-known names do drop by; this year saw Pixie Lott, Ash, Olly Murs and hometown favourite Toddla T.

Pixie Lott performing at this year’s Tramlines

The estimation for this year’s festival was 175,000 over the whole weekend. There’s no denying how much this festival is expanding and many venues were reaching full capacity and turning people away very early on in the night. Clubs were open till well into the morning and you had to be up again with a beer or two in your hand for it all to start over by lunchtime. Something is always going on throughout the day and I love the thriving energy flowing through the city, it just engrosses and consumes you.

It was hard not to get caught up in the friendly and lively atmosphere throughout the weekend; visitors were embracing the local promo nights and exploring different bars to check out perhaps before unknown bands. This festival also turned out to be a great opportunity to see what the local community are churning out in terms of art, films, culture and clothing. Mainly though, this festival was a true showcase of why Sheffield is such an important city for music in the UK.

I can only see the festival continuing to expand in the next few years, but that poses the question: can any festival afford to be free forever? Well, until I’ve finished my degree in Sheffield, let’s hope Tramlines can.


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