Interview: Tramlines Festival’s origins and the multi-venue dream

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When many people think about music festivals there’s every chance they see sunny fields, massive stages beneath blue skies, and acres of countryside being battered by thousands of wellied feet. Is it possible to hold such a grand festival in an inner city setting? Absolutely.

Enter Tramlines: a booming city festival that takes place across Sheffield every summer. Just last week we revealed the 2015 event’s first line-up announcments, with the likes of Sugarhill Gang, The Buzzcocks and Billy Bragg on the bill. They’ll be playing on the heels of Public Enemy’s stellar headline performance at last year’s festival.

It all goes down 24-26 July at various venues across Sheffield, such as the main stage, The Octagon, Leadmill, The Harley, and City Hall to name a few.

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But how did such a grand-scale festival emerge in a city atmosphere? We decided to get in touch with Kate Hewett at Tramlines to learn how a group of independent venues decided to go above and beyond to make something bigger.

And don’t forget, if you’re going to Tramlines 2015 and you need transport, why not give Liftshare a shot for all your affordable, social and green travel needs.

Take it away Kate!

Liftshare: Can you give us some insight into how Tramlines was founded and by whom? How challenging was it to set up that inaugural year and how well did it go in the end?

Kate: The festival was a collaborative effort between a small group of independent venue owners and local music figureheads. As gig promoters and venue owners, we were all acutely aware of the challenges that face Sheffield City Centre businesses during the summer months. Sheffield is a young and vibrant city, and our student residents make up over 10% of our overall population! What this does mean, though, is that, as soon as it gets to the summer, a huge chunk of the club- and gig-going community disappears for three months.

Partly with the aim of keeping our own independent businesses alive, we decided that it was time to create something that would bring music-lovers back into Sheffield during the summer, and Tramlines was born.

We always knew that there was a big demand for a large-scale music festival in Sheffield, but I don’t think that any of us could have anticipated the scale of response that we got to that first year. Every single venue, bar, pub and café was completely packed for the whole weekend, with people spilling out onto the streets and an incredible atmosphere.

We’ve always enjoyed a really positive level of support for the festival from the local music community, and it’s one of the key things that’s allowed us to still be here, seven years later.

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Liftshare: You had some truly superb acts at last year’s venues. Can you give us some insight into some of the best-received acts you have had, any that were a true joy to work with, and can you also tease us a little more regarding 2015’s line-up?

Kate: We’ve been really lucky, and have had very few negative experiences with bands over the years! We always get a great response from the acts that have played, with many coming back year after year. We’ve had loads of amazing artists on over the years, and pride ourselves on putting on bands that you might not expect to see. (Watching 70s Dutch prog band Focus play at the Leadmill in 2011 was a bizarre and amazing highlight).

I personally get a real buzz out of seeing how willing our crowd are to check out new music and experience something different. A massive part of our lineup is made up of breaking and unsigned bands, and really reflects our own tastes as organisers. We’ve had queues round the block for then-unknown artists who’ve since gone on to big things, and always try to make time to get ourselves down to the front for a dance to our personal favourites. We’ve had alt-j, the xx, George Ezra, AlunaGeorge and Charli XCX all play early shows for us, and are excited to see who this year’s big hits will be.

Liftshare: Tramlines is a multi-venue festival, which must be a great boost for Sheffield as a city. How closely do you work with businesses and communities across the city, and to what extent does it pull in tourism or people from further afield?

Kate: We have a couple of outdoor stages, but a massive part of the festival takes part in the city’s venues and clubs, with loads of independent businesses taking part. We see people coming from all over for the festival, and it’s great to be able to show off the city while hosting some of our favourite artists.

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Liftshare: Let’s talk green – to what extent do you consider green issues when putting on Tramlines and how do you look to keep waste down?

Kate: We work alongside the city’s public transport networks to make sure that there are always sustainable travel options for our festival-goers. Tramlines is an exploring festival, and most of our venues are accessible on foot, so we do what we can to encourage Sheffielders to leave their car at home and come for a wander instead.

Liftshare: Lastly, what challenges might you face being an inner city festival when compared to the ‘field festival’ format? Or, what advantages does this give you?

Kate: We’re proud of being an inner-city event for lots of reasons, but one thing that really resonates with us, as organisers, is the brilliant network of local venues that we work with. It’s such a treat being able to walk into a venue that already has a trusted team in place ready to take care of safety, make sure that the artists sound great, let their customers know about the event and give the best possible experience to Tramlines gig-goers.

Tramlines 2015 is already looking like a stunning inner city festival, and if the images of big crowds, sunny afternoons and fun-loving fans don’t sway you, then perhaps the brilliant line-up will? Don’t forget to check out the Liftshare Android App on Google Play for all your festival travel needs.

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