Written by Christian Cortes
The 11th annual Gem and Jam festival is a music and arts gathering hosted during the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, creating a community through the participatory art workshops and diverse musical lineups. T&E Collective spoke with festival founders Josh Pollack and Dave Sheldon to gain their perspective on the Gem and Jam community, how they've seen the festival evolve, and what attendees can look forward to this year.
Less than a month remains until the kickoff of southern Arizona’s longstanding music and art festival, Gem & Jam. Now in its eleventh year, Gem & Jam has long served as the unofficial start of the North American festival season thanks in part to Tucson’s exceptionally mild winters as well as the festival’s synchronous timing with the single largest gem and mineral showcase in the world.
Drawing upon the energy already gathered in Tucson each winter for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, Gem & Jam has found a unique place in the festival world by tapping into a culture that is already primed for travel, exploration and networking—hallmarks of the modern festival scene—in the pursuit of aesthetic and sensory interests.
“The community of people who love gems, minerals and jewelry—as well as jam, electronic, funk and bluegrass music—is surely a unique one, and we love providing the creative space for this community to flourish,” say Gem & Jam founders Josh Pollack and Dave Sheldon.
However, all is not business as usual for the festival this year! As the community making up Gem & Jam’s new and returning attendees has evolved, it would seem that the festival too is undergoing its own transformation.
After years of residency at an inner-city venue no longer able to house its growing number of attendees, Gem & Jam is taking the show to a new, much larger space lying beyond the fringes of Tucson in what is sure to be regarded as a pivotal move in this lauded festival’s growth.
Now able to offer full on-site camping at its new home at the Pima County Fairgrounds, as well as bypass the strict noise ordinances that have for years curtailed late-night music, the festival will transform into a four-day festival complete with on-site workshops, yoga, wee-hour music and a bevy of offerings the previous venue could never accommodate.
“We will have more interactive chill zones throughout the space as well as installations such as flame domes, art galleries, world-renowned jewelers and gem dealers, yoga, consciousness workshops and vendors. And the best part is that they are all on site this year. There will be more art galleries and a higher level of eye candy and visual aesthetics than ever before. The goal of our artist environments will be to transport the attendee into the art itself, making it a vital part of the experience.”
In addition to space, the new venue also brings a much-needed element that had always been in short supply for this once-urban music festival: nature.
“Transitioning out of the urban environment of downtown Tucson to find fresh energy and beauty in the natural desert setting—where we could be surrounded by mountains—is something we've been looking for. The fairgrounds have given us that opportunity.”
Of course, the glue that binds the weekend-long festival together has always been the music, and this year’s sonic theme stands apart from previous years in a manner that truly puts the “jam” back in “Gem and Jam.”
“We wanted live instruments and actual bands. That was the focus from day one this year. Electronic stuff and DJs are great, but in previous years we leaned heavily on the DJ thing because it allowed us to bring more entertainment within our budget. This year, we definitely wanted more jamming and live acts that fuse different genres, bridging the lineups of the past with those of the future.”
With a lineup that hinges upon more live acts than ever, Gem & Jam’s founders seem to have accomplished their aims by providing a range of jam-oriented, groovy and bass-hitting acts. Hitting a note with virtually any crowd in its inclusion of funk, bass, jam music, bluegrass, house and music too weird to describe, Gem & Jam 2017 is poised to be the biggest and best yet.
“Gem & Jam is always looking to improve on the year prior. We want to take this family we have built over the last 11 years and give them a bigger and better experience.”
Experience the evolution of this festival firsthand February 2-5th, 2017! Weekend passes, single-day tickets and camping permits can still be purchased on the Gem & Jam website.
Scope the full music schedule below to begin planning your weekend of fun in the desert!