More than 20,000 people lined the banks of the Tyne for a show marking the start of the Great Exhibition of the North.
Up to three million people are expected to visit the 80-day festival, which celebrates the scientific and the artistic achievements of the north of England.
The festival, focusing on the Newcastle and Gateshead quaysides, is expected to generate around £184m.
It opens at 13:00 BST, with a further ceremony at 22:00 BST with aerial displays of drones and live music.
The former Chancellor, George Osborne, came up with the idea as part of your North-of-Power scheme.
Watch live coverage of the launch
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “The Exhibition is an opportunity for us to say, loud and proud, that our best days are ahead of us instead of behind us.”
A hundred drones equipped with LED lights, were put to the test in the formation, between the Sage music centre and the Baltic art gallery the choreography to form different 3D shapes.
Director of projects of the Mungo Denison said: “we don’t think people have seen something like this before.”
There was also a 80m sculptures of water in the Tyne, and a spectacular fireworks display.
The opening night line-including Maximo Park, Turner Prize-winning artist Lubaina Himid and Stephenson’s Rocket.
Among the other highlights are John Lennon’s last piano, and the original Postman Pat models.
The exhibition will continue until the month of September, with events and trails in 40 locations across Tyneside.
Newcastle Gateshead Initiative chief executive Sarah Stewart said: “it’s going to reward repeat visits, there is no way that someone who comes for the day would be able to see all aspects of it.”
Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Newcastle-Gateshead will put on a fantastic festival for the whole country.
“Once again highlight the creative force of the North of the engine house and cultural investment can stimulate economies and inspire communities.”
Carol Bell, executive director of the Great Northern Exposure, he added: “This marks the start of an incredible summer and we hope that local residents and visitors far and wide will come and experience the incredible variety of exhibits, live performances and displays of innovation that we have on offer for free during the whole summer.”
An “alternative” to the event, Another Exhibition of the North, has also been established, which organizers say is meant to be “broader and more diverse.”