Written by Lane Undhjem
With the annual emergence of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show comes a music festival that combines the love of crystals, music, and community. This review highlights Gem and Jam's musical variety and showcasing of Arizona-local DJs, artists and performers.
The dust and patchouli have finally cleared from Pima County Fairgrounds after the 12th annual Gem & Jam wrapped up at the end of January. This was the second year that the event took place at the spacious fairgrounds site, a much-needed move away from the unfortunately named Slaughterhouse. With more area, more programming, and free from the souls of the thousands of slaughtered animals, Gem & Jam has finally adjusted to their new home at the fairgrounds.
A caravan of buses, camper vans, and all styles of gypsy wagons cruised into the campsites on Thursday to set up shop for the jamming that was to come. Unlike most commercial festivals, parking and placement volunteers took a fairly lackadaisical approach to dishing out campsites, leaving ample room to land grab for your friends in order to set up whatever size campsite that you had dreamt up. Even with whimsical campsite allocation, the campground was easily walkable leaving more energy for late night dancing and early morning yoga inside the venue. Five stages ensured that nobody was left searching for a particular sound - it was all covered. The bass heads could get their fixes of womps and wobbles at the Quartz stage, which also gave a solid amount of programming time to regional talent. Techno and house heads could boogie with the locals at the Opal Stage, and the Tanzanite and Emerald Stages hosted all of the top-billed artists.
I was proud to see that the Arizona festival scene turned up in droves to build and support this year’s iteration of Gem & Jam. Tucson based circus troupe, Cirque Roots, coordinated all of the workshops and yoga that took place during the weekend, encouraging everyone to loosen up a bit and get down with something other than music. The Secret Sessions guys from Sedona teamed up with Getdown Productions from Tucson to build and operate the Opal Stage, the smallest of the stages which facilitated educational talks during the day and house music sets in the evening. Monsoon Collective, the underground art collective that has been turning heads in downtown Tucson, brought a larger than life technicolor art installation that stood imposing behind the Tanzanite stage. Local favorite Safi’s Lab, co-founder of locally legendary Firefly Gathering in Flagstaff, threw down a bouncy, glitch-hop set to close out the Quartz Stage on Saturday night which had all of the Arizona tribe beaming with nostalgia. The inclusion of local musicians and artists was definitely a highlight of the weekend, and many of the crews were able to meet and exchange information for future collaborations.
As for headliners, Gem & Jam certainly ran with the ‘jam’ theme this year, giving full bands top billing over DJs. Two sets from Brooklyn based funkateers Lettuce and two sets from jamtronica legends STS9 had asses shaking throughout the weekend. Most of the heavy bass tunes came during the late night party at the indoor at the Onyx Stage. By the time the late night sets started, the temperature had plummeted, so these sets were always packed out as everyone went inside to warm their bones up. CharlesTheFirst and Jade Cicada were my highlights here, bringing the heavy heat for anyone who needed a to get a little headbanging in during the weekend. It was a good contrast from the largely jam-oriented headliners, which kept the mixed crowd happy over the course of the festival. The biggest surprise for me and maybe my most enjoyable set of the festival was the Sunday night closing set from the bluegrass outfit from Kalamazoo called Greensky Bluegrass. I was a little skeptical of a band without a drummer, but holy shit these guys ripped their string instruments to a level that made me forget about drums altogether. Props to the Gem & Jam producers for their time slot; it was a great way to round out the weekend.
Say what you want about Gem & Jam, but there is really something for everyone at this event. Excellent visual art, bomb healthy food, and a good crowd just added to the overall aesthetic and vibe of the festival. Tucson has well-established hipster bias towards the event which always coincides with the crust punks that scum up Fourth Avenue. In my experience, it’s an unwarranted comparison and anyone who ends up taking the plunge and attending the event inevitably finds themselves having a stellar time. Everyone laughed when I picked up rocks off the ground and asked “If you take trades, bro,” in the most self-deprecating, hippy accent that I could muster. Many jokes about getting high on Tide Pods, the Gender Jam, and attending the wedding of Jim & Pam rang out throughout the weekend. It was laughs and smiles all weekend, with little to no sketchy behavior that occurred in my presence. I’m chalking it up as a job well done, and I encourage the rest of Tucson to embrace the festival instead of look down on it as some hippies trading rocks. Mark it on your calendar for next year, and I’ll show you a good time.
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