Tramlines Festival 'massively important' to Sheffield, and it's not just about the music
Public Enemy memorably brought the noise to Sheffield’s Tramlines Festival in 2014, but amid the euphoria of that barnstorming performance one little-told story encapsulates the event's importance to the city.
Rapper Flavor Flav was so taken with T-shirts he saw that weekend made by a local company, says festival promoter Alex Deadman, who forgets the firm’s name, that he invited the creators backstage and got them to design the band personalised tops.
The hip-hop icons are not the only performers to have been won over by the region’s makers at Tramlines. In 2012, We Are Scientists were seduced by Thornbridge's ales and gave the brewer a shout out from the main stage, while this year Yorkshire Tea has prepared a special bundle for one tea-supping DJ in a bid to prove ‘God’s own country’ makes the best cuppa.
As thousands of music-lovers descend on Sheffield for this year’s sell-out festival, with over 30,000 revellers set to pour into Hillsborough Park and many more expected to flock to fringe events in the city centre, those examples show how the weekend is much more than just a celebration of Sheffield’s buzzing music scene.
It is a shop window for the region’s creativity in all its guises, a chance to show visitors the famous friendliness on which Sheffielders pride themselves and let them see how much more there is to the place than steel and snooker.
“Showcasing the city is part of the festival’s original core values,” says Alex.
“The festival and fringe events mean you have tens of thousands of people arriving in Sheffield. We estimate that around 40 per cent of ticket-holders come from outside Sheffield, and it’s an amazing opportunity to show the city at its best and hopefully get those visitors coming back not just for the festival next year but to see more of the city.
“As a city festival, we feel we have a responsiblity to promote Sheffield and help not just the incredible artists we have here but talented people within the city working in lots of different fields.”
One of the reasons Tramlines was launched in 2009, with the council’s support, was to provide a much-needed summer boost for city centre businesses during the summer, when the student exodus has taken place and many workers are on holiday.
In 2016, research by Sheffield Hallam University estimated the festival was worth £9 million to the city's economy – a figure Alex felt at the time was a little inflated but believes is probably now close to the mark.
When Tramlines relocated to Hillsborough last year, Alex says there was ‘some kick back’ from city centre venues but it turned out there was so much still happening with the fringe that they weren’t seriously impacted by the move.
On the flip side, he says businesses in Hillsborough welcomed Tramlines, which he says has brought many people both from within and without Sheffield to a part of the city they might not otherwise have visited.
“With the new venue, lots of people including us were holding our breath to some extent but everyone had a great experience and it felt like Tramlines had arrived as a big, proper festival,” he says.
“After years of searching, it feels like we’re finally settling on a sustainable business model, which has been what we needed.”
Alex says the festival tries its hardest to be a good neighbour, liaising with local residents, running a 24-hour hotline for them to call with any problems and giving free tickets to those who are most affected.
Since becoming a ‘fully wristbanded’ event a few years ago, having only started charging in 2013, Alex says the number of ticketholders attending has risen steadily from around 12,000 to more than 30,000.
Looking ahead, he says the main goal is not expansion – the maximum capacity is 40,000 including staff and performers, and he says organisers are not keen to get too close to that figure – but ‘tweaking’' things to make the weekend as good as possible.
Changes this year include adding more family activities as part of Into the Trees and improving the range of food on offer by partnering with the team behind Kelham Island’s Cutlery Works.
Tramlines remains a great platform for local acts, with emerging talent from the city and across the country chosen to appear as part of BBC Introducing and the festival's own ‘apply to play’ initiative, and 25 spoken word performers selected by Sheffield’s poet laureate Otis Mensah to appear at Speaker’s Corner.
Wendy Ulyett, Welcome to Sheffield's tourism manager, said: “Tramlines is massively important to the city. It’s bringing around 80,000 people together, many of whom are coming from outside the city, raising Sheffield's profile by giving us coverage in the national media and the music press, and reinforcing our reputation for music and creativity.
“It’s a great opportunity to show visitors what Sheffield’s all about, and we all have a part to play in making sure they have a great experience and want to come back to see more of what Sheffield has to offer.
“The festival’s a big part of our exciting summer calendar of events, which ranges from the upcoming Invictus UK Trials to the Underwater Hockey World Age Group Championships in a few weeks.”