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REVIEW // Crossed Wires Festival 2024

Crossed Wires posters


REVIEW // Crossed Wires Festival 2024

Crossed Wires: The Podcast Festival took place across various venues in Sheffield on Friday 31st May to Sunday 2nd June. We asked freelance writer, Chella Quint, to attend on behalf of Pod Bible and to give us her honest thoughts…

Sheffield’s brand new podcast festival, Crossed Wires, has had an excellent inaugural outing. Sheffield’s strong track record with events like DocFest, the Children’s Media Conference, and Tramlines made me hopeful for a weekend that combined great shows, industry conversations, and a laid-back vibe… and that’s exactly what I got. I look forward to its growth in the coming years.

Disclaimer, I’m a frequent podcast guest and radio interviewee when someone needs a period education expert (which is not never!). I’m also an avid podcast listener, with my particular tastes leaning toward the nerdy and topical (current faves: Lateral with Tom Scott, The Allusionist with Helen Austwick-Zaltman and No Such Thing as a Fish with the QI team, and, due to my Brooklyn beginnings, I’m a long-time fan of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!)

I was initially unsure whether my adopted hometown had space for another festival in general or could draw audiences for podcasts specifically. Like many locals, I studied here and loved it so much I stayed, and we are fiercely loyal. Was this truly a homegrown festival? I agreed to come along, attend a few shows and give it a review for Pod Bible. An offer to pay my train fare up to Sheffield was slightly alarming – even the PR team thought I was from The South and needed remuneration to convince me to visit The North. I reassured them that I was so local I would be cycling over, but wouldn’t say no to an invite to the launch party.

festival posters in the Bethel Chapel space

Festival posters in the Bethel Chapel space – Photograph: Chella Quint

The opening speeches at the brand new city centre food hall, the Cambridge Street Collective, quickly allayed my fears. It turned out I actually knew several members of the wider team. I recognised some former BBC Sheffield broadcasters and bumped into the Lord Mayor, the Chief Exec of the council, and the South Yorkshire Mayor. Turns out the South Yorkshire Combined Mayoral Authority (SYMCA) and Sheffield City Council have both pledged three years of funding to help the festival get off the ground. I headed to my first show.

Off Air with Jane and Fi at the Crucible Theatre attracted an audience of primarily older women (although Jane and Fi praised the mum who’d brought her daughter and thanked the husband who’d been brought along by his wife for his patience) and included attendees who’d travelled from as far as Wales and South Africa. Jane and Fi’s relaxed performance, with lights up in the room, felt intimate and welcoming. They answered audience questions, chatted, and discussed their transition from the BBC to Times Radio with refreshing honesty, touching on the challenges of accepting advertising but standing firm against gambling and credit ads. The chance to hear these familiar voices in a more candid setting would become a consistent theme of the festival.

Off Air with Jane and Fi at the Crucible Theatre Photograph Chella Quint

Off Air with Jane and Fi at the Crucible Theatre – Photograph: Chella Quint

I headed back to the opening night party which featured outstanding local choir Neighbourhood Voices and a guest DJ set by local legend Self Esteem. (Serious props to Rebecca Lucy Taylor, who consistently lent her time and talents to the festival all weekend long, starting with the opening party and concluding with her session on Sunday with Adam Buxton.)

The next afternoon, I went along to Talk Art at Sheffield City Hall. Held in the smaller basement ballroom, Talk Art featured an engaging interview with local-artist-gone-London Corbin Shaw. Hosts Russell Tovey and Robert Diament asked the questions, and despite not being familiar with the podcast, I found their approach enjoyable and informative. Shaw’s work, which explores themes of toxic masculinity in football fandom and his sense of place and family, was super resonant. I left with a newfound appreciation for his art and the podcast itself. I even got to meet Russell Tovey, whose television work I’ve always loved.

Talk Art with hosts Robert Diament and Russell Tovey plus guest Corbin Shaw

Talk Art with hosts Robert Diament and Russell Tovey plus guest Corbin Shaw – Photograph: Chella Quint

After a brief visit to Kelham Pride, I came back to the city centre to catch Brown Girls Do It Too at the newly renovated Bethel Chapel (all the fringe events were held in a pop-up black box theatre space here). Hosts Poppy Jay and Rubina Pabani captivated the full house with their humour and astute advice about sex and relationships. Their ability to blend serious topics with knowing observational nods to their families’ reactions to talking about (or catching them at) various intimate encounters was appreciated by the most diverse audience I’d seen yet. Their show concluded – as some of their previous live appearances have – with a sharp and triumphant musical number addressing the exoticisation of Asian women, earning them a standing ovation. The atmosphere was electric, and the energy was infectious.

Brown Girls Do It Too – on stage & surrounded by fans

Brown Girls Do It Too – on stage & surrounded by fans – Photograph: Chella Quint

The next day I headed over to The Naked Podcast, another free fringe show in Bethel Chapel, a former homegrown BBC Radio Sheffield production which came back for one night only as an independent outing. For a Naked Podcast, it was all very chaste. Starting in glamorous dressing gowns and then posing coyly in front of some strategically placed foliage, hosts Kat Harbourne and Jenny Elles interviewed Doncaster-born, Burmese-British actress, model and reality TV star Chrissie Wunna in a playful yet empowering session. Their usual openness and Wunna’s frank stories took everyone from giggles to guffaws. The session ended on a particularly heartwarming note, with a shout-out to former Naked Podcast guests in the audience – and a special thanks and birthday singalong to disability activist, former broadcaster (and, full disclosure, good friend of mine) Sam Cleasby. The warmth in the room was real and not just because of the lights keeping the ferns from wilting and revealing and the audience had a lot of affection for this show. I hope it will come back in another incarnation again one day soon.

Kat and Jenny of the Naked Podcast, clothed then hidden by ferns and foliage

Kat and Jenny of the Naked Podcast, clothed then hidden by ferns and foliage – Photograph: Chella Quint

Most of the audience went straight from there to The Adam Buxton Podcast at a sold-out Sheffield City Hall. I am on the periphery of Adam and Joe fandom, I caught them on Channel 4 on a visit to the UK as a teen and didn’t quite know what I was watching, but enjoyed it. Although I’m not a regular listener to his podcast, every time I do hear it or see something he’s done I enjoy it, and I’ll be adding it into my rotation. I wasn’t surprised it was sold out: a combination of him and Self Esteem (Rebecca Lucy Taylor) who’s also a fan, were a huge crowd draw, and it was an absolutely amazing show. Wild juxtapositions abounded. After some Buxton-style scathing silliness with AI and a quality interview with Self Esteem, the show ended with her singing a heart-wrenching acapella arrangement of I Do This All The Time with her backup singers… leaving much of the audience of us ‘good sturdy girls’ openly crying… followed immediately by all four women on stage doing a conga line into the wings with not even a wave to the audience, and Adam Buxton shouting goodbye and thanks, and playing a looped video outro sequence where a screenful of cartoon likenesses repeatedly dive into his bottom and are regurgitated to some wacky music. It was all perplexingly wonderful. We were all invited back to Bethel Chapel for a breather.

Adam Buxton on stage and Self Esteem and her singers

Adam Buxton on stage and Self Esteem and her singers – Photograph: Ellie Eagle-Skinner

The final show, Katherine Ryan Telling Everybody Everything back at the City Hall, began with her short comedy set followed by an ‘in conversation’ with author and broadcaster Emily Dean. I did actually ask for a plus one for this one to get the full experience of being able to share Katherine Ryan’s ‘can’t unhear that’ moments with a friend, but although we had an extra chuckle over Emily Dean’s obsession with Henry VIII, really the whole room felt like one big hangout, complete with Katherine Ryan herself reminding folks when to get the last train home (even though the show was going longer), and Emily Dean’s adorable dog Raymond roaming the stage (apparently Sheffielders left a good impression on Emily Dean – we are more dog-friendly than Londoners).

Katherine Ryan and Emily Dean (and her dog) thanking the audience

Katherine Ryan and Emily Dean (and her dog) thanking the audience – Photograph: Chella Quint

And then, for those who didn’t have to worry about the last train, the festival ended. The verdict? Sceptical at first, but completely won over. Crossed Wires had Big DocFest Energy for me, and that is an excellent thing. The three-year commitment from both the council and SYMCA means there’s a plan for the future. The curation ticked a lot of boxes for me, and clearly even more for everyone else – there were a bunch of sold-out events in both the paid and fringe programmes.

My only critique would be the costs of the paid shows. My experience of having comps for the shows I wanted was unique, and I might not have spent that cash otherwise, but the ‘feel’ of being welcome everywhere was too good not to share with other festival goers in future. I hope next year it’s possible to offer a festival pass, allowing access to all shows for one price (perhaps supplemented by external sales to big draws). Actually, here is my full wishlist as the festival grows: more indie and emerging podcasts, offering an even bigger platform for local voices, improving access by including live captions, and programming in more themed strands, such as my own nerdy faves, plus other popular categories like true crime and politics.

My weekend was filled with laughter, learning, and a strong sense of community, leaving me eager for next year’s event. The festival’s organisation, venues, and overall execution were commendable, and the staff were attentive and ensured accessibility throughout. It has the potential to become a staple in both the podcasting calendar and the Sheffield festival diary. Roll on, Crossed Wires 2025!

Were you at Crossed Wires Festival 2024? What did you enjoy? What would you like to see more of? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

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