The rise and fall of festivals that fleetingly burst onto the scene only to be forgotten by the time the next season comes around has been something that plagued live music even before the beleaguering pandemic. The issue most of the time is not that the performances put on display the year before were subpar, but simply that the festival itself lacked some sort of undefined identity.
This Is Tomorrow Festival, however, looks to have secured a spot in the circuit and as a result, a place in the diaries of many. Like Saint James’ Park a matter of minutes away, the main stage for This Is Tomorrow rises up from the edges of the city like a cathedral for the masses out to have a good time. It is this unique location on the Town Moore that sets the festival aside for locals and visitors alike.
As is the case with most big festivals these days, This Is Tomorrow goes for an eclectic grab-bag of acts, so the chances are you mightn’t like the whole bill, which is part of the reason why some form of individuality on the part of the location itself is all the more important. Defined music scenes these days are rare, but a hodgepodge palette on the main stage only works if the area achieves an atmosphere that gives revellers a chance to enjoy the vibe when they’re not fully enthralled in the action itself. The airy buzz and picturesque backdrop of the Exhibition Park deliver just that.
And nowhere was that homely celebration of Newcastle itself more apparent than when Sam Fender walked out on stage to the regional anthem of ‘Local Hero’. Like Alan Shearer with a six-string, he could’ve simply held a hand aloft and demanded the keys to the city then and there and the amalgamation of thousands would’ve seen fit that his behest was met.
Fortunately, however, he burst into a set that befittingly wrapped up the final day of the festival – chocked with talent throughout – with a scintillating deal-sealing swansong. He raced through renditions of his finest hits and delivered a performance that most will simply remember for the arm-in-arm euphoria and questionable singalong vocals that were pelted in their ear. This, of course, is the perfect way to thrust a middle finger into the face of a usually dismal Sunday evening of dread. Not a mug in sight seemed to be bothered about missing The Antiques Roadshow and thoughts of Monday morning hangovers were lost to the eudemonia.
Prior to Fender’s heroic existential-Sunday-salving display, which earmarked him as a certified main stage headliner for the future, Fontaines D.C. reaffirmed their status as one of the best and most important acts to emerge in recent times with rollicking crowd-rousing renditions of songs from both of their fantastic albums to date.
Prior to that, another local talent in the form of Nadine Shah played a similar buzz-gathering set that geared the day up nicely. Earlier in the week Shah had no doubt sent PR emails flying as she brought attention to the condemnable behaviours alleged against the now-resigned SSD Concerts boss Steve Davis. However, her reason for playing the festival was that it was for the fans, and that is an ethos that transcended the whole shebang.
Whatever discreditable acts had gone before, were eschewed with solidarity for the returning boon of live music that proved to be a spiritual honey after the long drought of sonic get-togethers. And long may that buzz reverberate, as the Northeast seems to have found a festival to relish in and call its own, with the subversive joy of music and hard-working local acts helping to clear up past controversies.
The only sorry downside to the festival is that a lingering smell of butterscotch has now swept over the city from the rising plume of smoke emitted from thousands of free vapes. This sweet vapour filled the air and sent everyone rushing to the nearest doughnut van (who presumably were in some covert partnership with the butterscotch vape racquet all along?).