For the uninitiated, Tramlines is Sheffield’s annual free music festival. The 2011 event was its third, and biggest, with over 50 venues from the likes of the folk forest at Endcliffe Park, the Rude Shipyard and the Greystones outside of the centre, to a whole host of central venues, including the Millennium Galleries and the Cathedral alongside all the usual places. It was the first year I’d “done” Tramlines properly, having only managed the odd little thing previously. This time I wanted to make as much of the weekend as possible, and here are the ten things I learned (and one I didn’t) from this year’s experience.
1. Take a spare mobile phone. Or one with a super-duper battery. Or one that works better than mine anyway.
Tramlines needed Twitter. The #buskersbus, #tramlines and not-used-enough #tramlinestraffic hashtags were like my Bible for the weekend – updating you on what was happening where. I was able to see where my friends were headed and post where I was. Facebook was also useful for seeing where non-Twitter friends were at, and of course, text messaging was handy. But my battery life is rubbish, and my phone has a tendency to crash when it thinks I’m making it do too much, as if it were a teenager I was pestering to do its homework. So every single day, my phone died way before home time. I did take the netbook out Saturday and Sunday but it looks a bit awkward to be getting that out in gigs, and it’s a bit fiddly to faff about with wifi and dongles and whatnot on that thing in crowded spaces. A second mobile would have helped. Or, you know, a good one.
2. Domino’s pizza costs £7.99. Or £5. Or £3. Or £2. Depending on which day it is and where you are.
I have never seen so many people publicising one teeny-tiny shop before. Everywhere you looked in town (seriously) there were people flyering for Domino’s, wearing huge pizza boxes, shouting about whatever deal they had going on through megaphones and, at some venues, selling pizzas. The Domino’s on West Street (always busy anyway) is the size of a shoebox. How they managed to employ all those people or keep all those pizzas coming is a mystery. They were a bit annoying though.
3. Big news stories will break, but you’ll feel weirdly disconnected from it all in the Tramlines bubble.
Festivals and conferences always have that whole ‘bubble’ feel about them, don’t they? However, usually that feeling is aided by you being away from home. This festival was in Sheffield, with all the normal stuff about and you got to sleep in your own bed at night (if you were a local anyway. Well, unless you were lucky/wasted enough to end up in someone else’s, I guess). Even so, the ‘bubble’ vibe still took over, and the most pressing news of the day was always how busy each bar was, which toilet queue was the longest (fun facts at the main stage, the busiest toilets were near the quietest bar and vice versa) and who might be playing secret gigs on the Buskers’ Bus. Norway happened and you learned about it in fits and starts, through things popping up on Twitter or Facebook as you were checking for news on whether or not you could get into your venue of choice, or through a quick flick on of the telly when you stumbled home late at night, not really able to take in the news. Amy Winehouse died, and I discovered it via Twitter (of course) outside the Fat Cat tweeting about the wait for the Everly Pregnant Brothers to come out in the car park. Every music festival has a celebrity death during its run, doesn’t it? Several bands performed covers and ‘tributes’, some sincere, some less so, after the news came through.
4. SYPTE will do something idiotic like change all the bus routes and stops in a major way during the festival.
I saw a lot of confused people on High Street on Sunday evening as the travel meanies decided to baffle drunk people on the busiest weekend of the year by changing everything in a major way. Sensible.
5. Think about what you wear.
There’s a rare breed of people who can do stylish and comfortable. Some of these folk were out and about this weekend. However, the majority of us can only do one or the other – and if that’s you, do comfortable every time. I saw far too many people trying to navigate Devonshire Green in impractical heels, shivering and soaking wet in Barker’s Pool because they hadn’t brought a coat or brolly, or sweating and smelling in a synthetic fabric in a sweaty pub. I would say I got it right on Friday (outdoors all evening, warm but on and off rain = hoodie with T-shirt underneath for the warm bit earlier in the day, jeans, trainers, brolly) and Sunday (mix of outdoors and indoors, sunny = cropped combats, long T-shirt, comfy trainers, brolly in bag, thin cardigan, funky necklace) but wrong on Saturday (on feet all day, warm day, mix of outdoors and indoors = medium comfortable trainers, jeans, T-shirt, hoodie) where I was too hot and sticky and my feet hurt, plus I was nowhere near stylish enough for Tiger Works (which is a horrible venue).
Layers that are easy to put in a bag, very comfortable footwear and cropped trousers are probably your best bet, and sunglasses, a brolly, lip balm and suncream are advised. I didn’t take my sun cream because it leaks (thanks for nothing, Boots’ Soltan spray) or sunglasses, because I’d broken them, and I regretted it. It’a also worth taking a mini deodorant, and tissues in case you end up in one of the outdoor venues with portaloos.
This point also relates to the next two points…
6. Medium venues are your friend
Everyone wants to be at the main stage because that’s where the ‘names’ are. Or they want to be in the small intimate pubs, because that’s where you hope to get the ‘vibe’. But the main stage and the small venues all regularly packed out and had queues. The medium venues, however (well, the ones I got to – didn’t make the 02 Academy, Leadmill etc) such as the Peace Gardens, Cathedral, City Hall Ballroom and HUBS had enough people to give a feeling of something happening, but not so many you felt like death. I saw several acts at these venues, of varying quality, but the atmosphere was always great. I heard this was also true of Heeley City Farm and the folk forest at Endcliffe Park, even from people who didn’t like the music – good venues, good vibe. And, importantly, with all these venues, you generally got to have a sit down. Which leads me to…
7. Plan loosely, not rigidly
On Saturday, I ended up leaving town at about 9pm because I hadn’t paced the day correctly, and my feet were killing me from being shoes that could have been more comfortable, and standing or walking the whole day. I needed more sitting down in my day. Sunday, I had a lot more sitting down and stayed out a lot longer. This is where point 6 comes in handy.
Sitting/standing aside, it’s worth looking in the programme and having a vague idea of where you might like to go, otherwise the size and scale of the thing can overwhelm you and you’ll either wind up wandering aimlessly or staying rooted to one venue. Give yourself a few options for each time slot, but be prepared for disappointment – several running orders changed, or venues were too full and people missed acts that way – best not to pin your hopes on anything, but to be flexible. You won’t see everything you want to, you won’t see every “happening” (I missed some cracking “happenings” according to Twitter, but then I was at at least one such event and personally thought it was a bit meh so these things are all subjective anyway), so just enjoy wherever you end up. Do move about a bit and try and take in a few venues, but don’t expect to get everywhere. The best moments are the spontaneous silliness anyway (personal favourite: the huge crowd in the Fat Car park on a Sunday Saturday, eating bargainous burgers from the outdoor BBQ, drinking bottles from the Kelham Island brewery shop because the bar queue was too long, partying with the EPBs, pointing at the woman on the balcony and singing ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ to her).
I went down by myself every time, and though there were a few places where I’d pre-arranged to meet people, often I just turned up to a venue to see what was happening. In all but one venue, I found people I knew there, and often that led to wandering on to the next venue with that group, and then going somewhere else by myself. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere if you want to go and your mates don’t. Plenty of people were going to stuff on their own, and it’s Sheffield, you’re bound to bump into someone.
8. The Buskers Bus is amazing
There were two routes running, and if I didn’t get so travel sick, it would have been fun just to ride around on the buses all weekend. Most acts seemed to love doing the bus run, including some of the medium-sized “names”, and the atmosphere on the buses was great. Don’t just go for acts you’ve heard of though (although I mainly went on buses where my mates were playing) – the small groups seemed just as fun. I didn’t hear of one bus journey that wasn’t enjoyed. 20 minutes of your life you won’t regret.
9. Everyone wants it to go well
I’m sure there were scuffles and disruption at some points, but I didn’t see any – what I did see were security guards, police, bar staff, stewards, bands and festival goers all wanting a peaceful weekend. There was booze everywhere, but it didn’t seem to be a problem, as long as people disposed of glass (and cans at some venues), they could bring their own or buy on-site (in the outdoor venues) and people seemed to behave themselves well for the most part. All the security and police I saw were friendly and relaxed. Again, there were probably exceptions, but the general rule was one of niceness and politeness.
10. Sheffield is amazing
Seriously. From the rousing reception to the EPBs singing about the hole in the road and Hendo’s, to the visibility of people of all ages, races, abilities, sexualities (the same inclusive vibe as Pride the week before), to the range of musical genres on offer, to the sheer number and range of venues and businesses involved, to the sheer love for local bands as well as a warm welcome to those from elsewhere. This was a festival that, yes, had some big corporate sponsorship, but also celebrated the small and local in a big way. I love living in the biggest village in the world.
… and one thing I didn’t learn
1. Where on earth Bar 27 was
And I wasn’t the only one. Everyone I spoke to was stumped, and I saw lots of people poring over the maps, which it wasn’t on, looking for it. Obscure venues need to be clearly markedon the maps next year!
Anyway – I might talk more later about the actual bands and stuff, but for now, a huge, huge thanks to all involved. It must have taken a tremendous amount of organising, and to put it all on for free, for us, for the sheer fun of celebrating music and celebrating Sheffield – it was a pleasure.