Nearly a decade in and it feels like in a lot of ways Tramlines is still finding its feet; playing with a formula until it’s perfected. This year the organisers opted for fewer venues – moving everything outdoors and adding mini-stages into the existing arenas. They also largely ditched the free “fringe” elements. If you wanted to be part of it, you had to buy a ticket.
Walk around town, and within minutes you’ll have found someone who thinks this is the best thing ever, and someone else who thinks “the whole festival has gone to shit”. Believe it or not, lots of folk are still bitter about the fact they have to pay at all (up until 2013 the festival was free).
Really, it’s a bit of both. The organisers justified the change by saying they wanted to keep ticket prices low, but quality of acts high. And you can’t argue with that. Three days of music for under £50 – including The Libertines, Kano and Primal Scream – is a truly incredibly feat.
On the other hand, the mini-stages added to the arenas were a bit of a non-event; tiny tents tucked away in corners that were easy to miss. And you could argue they weren’t really needed at all. The pedigree of artists spread across the three main stages (Ponderosa, Devonshire Green and The Folk Forest) was astounding – a line-up strong and diverse enough to satisfy even the grumpiest of ticket holders.
For the most part the acts delivered. The Libertines were as shambolic as any true fan would wish, All Saints entertained a packed crowd despite torrential rain, and Akala, Loyle Carner and Lady Leshurr were outstanding as the main stage focused on UK rap on Sunday afternoon. But the true beauty of Tramlines lies in platform it gives local acts – The Sheffield Sgt Pepper Project, for example, playing the classic Beatles album in full to an overflowing Folk Forest in the lunchtime sun.
Regardless of how much people grumble over the price, and toilet queues and bar prices – the organisers of Tramlines should be proud. In less than 10 years they’ve created an institution that brings the whole city together. Even those who refuse to put their hands in their pockets still head into town. Why? Because Tramlines is the best weekend of the year.
Has it found the perfect formula yet? No. But it’s not far off.