Thoughts on Tramlines 2021: "A time where the people of Sheffield were finally able to enjoy themselves"
After a year of what can only be described as a particularly turgid concoction of emotions for many of us, which pales into comparison when juxtaposed against the tragic events that have taken place over the past year… and then some. Perhaps this years Tramlines and the chance to dance and be free once more was just what so many needed?
As part of the Government’s Event Research Programme, we were finally permitted to return to some form of normality or rather this “new normal” as Sheffield’s Tramlines Festival returned following last years cancellation. And, this time around 40,000 festival-goers were given the thumbs up to finally gather en-masse and descend (once more) upon Sheffield’s Hillsborough Park for one of the largest scale festivals since the Covid-19 pandemic inflicted such horrific tragedy on several levels across the nation (and the world). But this weekend was the first chance that so many in the city were able to finally escape the whims of lockdown restrictions and finally embrace live music once more. Seventeen months is a long time at the best of times but that’s how long it has been since the very first lockdown, or 486 if we’re counting. But honestly, my goodness it has been worth the wait.
Over the last few days, I have been one of the lucky few (or unlucky depending on your viewpoint), who were able to attend Sheffield’s flagship live music event. From Friday through to Sunday - which is when this piece was written - was the moment where we were blessed with the musical, poetic and comedic performances from a plethora of artists and as so many people adjusted to finally being around so many people for the first time in an aeon it was genuinely a magical occasion, at least within the confines of the festival.
Friday begin rather tentatively as people began to enter the park and slowly mill around the event areas, initial acts were not particularly overwhelmed with hordes of people and as the first day went on things began to steadily pick up - for reference, we did also live stream a few videos on the first day, where I also took the time to answer questions and respond to some of the comments on the live stream. I can’t pretend it wasn’t a time for a bit of an anxiety overload, if I pretended otherwise it would be remiss of me. It’s genuinely a weird new world we’re in at the moment and regardless of our views on the pandemic and its subsequent impacts the adjustment period is going to take a while on the whole. The first day though was a really nice mood on the whole and it didn’t take long for people to ease into this maskless event of weekend frivolity and fun, provided they could provide a clear lateral flow test (provided on a 48-hour basis).
The headline act for the first day, The Streets, perfectly summed up the mood when he said that it had been an incredibly tough year and to emphasise the need for people to pace themselves accordingly, shortly before proceeding to spray the contents of a bottle of champagne (or two) over the crowd. The mood as a whole here was one of relief, you could feel the tension slowly dissipate over the course of the day, and the ones that followed, as everyone began to realise that this was no longer a lucid dream but an actuality. In short, it was a beautiful moment that just felt nice.
Throughout the weekend, things steadily became even more relaxed as the acts stepped to the fore with aplomb, to appreciative roars and in some cases, a chorus of chants that were perhaps a means of exhuming the pent up frustrations, emotions and lingering joy, as so many people were finally able to enjoy rather than lament the times from before now.
As for highlights of the weekend, where do we start? The Streets goes without saying, The Kooks had people in a chorus of delight, Naive-ly so? Na mate. Sophie Ellis Bextor continued the party atmosphere with an energetic set and the likes of Royal Blood, The Sherlocks, Circa Waves, Blossoms, Dizzee Rascal and Tom Walker raised the roof. But several acts were simply a wonder to behold, Little Simz was spectacular akin to a Lauryn Hill in her pomp, Otis Mensah had people swarming The Open Arms, Holly Humberstone, The Snuts and Mahalia were excellent. And let’s not forget The Everly Pregnant Brothers and Barrioke performed by Shaun Williamson, he of ‘Barry from Eastenders’ fame nonetheless, need I say any more? All of this without mentioning the smaller acts that stood out, such as Lauren Housley, The Rosadocs, The Snuts, Sophie and the Giants and so many more that I simply couldn’t name here.
It’s hard to find a negative on the whole, perhaps a means of better representation… something I’d already discussed with some of those associated with Tramlines and definitely a talking point over the course of the next year(s). Ultimately, barring the transport situation that threatened to put a dampener on the weekend but seeing the throngs of people celebrating, chanting, singing and smiling while exiting the venue from all angles… it seemed alright, considering the whole ordeal of getting back home.
Is this our new normal or are these merely tentative steps to the next steps, who knows? All I do know is that barring any negative follow-ups to this, it’s so good to be back enjoying festivals, live performances and roll on the next one.