With the official festival season fast approaching and the temperature getting warmer it’s almost hard to remember that just a few months ago the days were cold and short with not much to do; however, this is precisely why I’m going to tell you a little bit about a lovely event that happens in the middle of winter with plenty for you festival lovers and festival newbies to do: Gem & Jam Festival!
Gem & Jam Festival is hosted by Euphoric Conceptions and is a 4 day camping music festival now located at the Pima County Fairgrounds only 20 minutes southeast of Tucson, Arizona. The desert is probably not a place where you would think to find a festival (except for the legendary Burning Man), let alone one in the winter time, but because of this festival taking place in a desert climate the winter is the perfect time to host a festival, comfortable temperatures during the day time and chilly at night but nothing a jacket couldn’t fix! The venue is a decent size and was comfortably able to fit all the RV passes, car passes, and walk-in camping passes in their designated areas within the campground without feeling cramped. Another feature that I thought was a step up from all the different festival venues I’ve experienced was that because it was on an actual campground there were actual bathrooms/showers! I personally have used one too many port-o-potties in my festival days and, depending on how efficient the company hired is, those bad boys can get pretty nasty and not get stocked up as frequently as they should. There were some port-o-potties in the walk-in camping section of the festival since that happened to be a little further out in the camping layout however there were a few actual bathroom structures in the festival vicinity and that was such a relief for those attending the festival, especially for the ladies (am I right, girls?).
Let’s talk about the set up. This festival brings the two very different worlds of jam and electronic together with a beautiful collection of artists, from longtime groups like STS9, Greensky Bluegrass, and Lettuce to artists like Maddy O’Neal, Russ Liquid Test and Marvel Years who all seem to have exploded into popularity in the festival community within the last five or so years. Gem & Jam I would say is a small-medium size festival and surprisingly can fit a total of 5 stages: 2 big stages, 2 smaller stages, and 1 indoor late night stage.
The festival did a great job not only in physically spacing out the stages so music didn’t clash together but also set up the schedule in a flowing way so there was only about 10 minutes of overlap, and sometimes none at all! It was so satisfying to be able to wander the festival grounds while still being able to hear whatever artists you were interested in based on where you were standing in the festival. The stages themselves are given gem/mineral names, in respect to the gigantic international gem and mineral festival that occurs in Tucson every year for 2-3 weeks, along with some of the stages having a sort of crystal altar that is at the front of the stages for decoration.
OK…music. Some of the artists on the lineup I was personally excited to see were: Emancipator, Big Wild, Breaking Biscuits, and Russ Liquid Test! Of course there are many more but these are a few of my newer loves. I also had to leave Sunday since I had a long drive ahead of me back to Northern California so I was unable to see Lettuce and Greensky Bluegrass who are two bands I enjoy so much.
Emancipator’s performance was very pleasing to the ears, the instruments linked with the subtlety of the electronic vibes brings such a fulfilling flow and one you can listen to no matter what time of day and no matter how you feel. During his performance I would look around me and see so many people with their eyes closed, totally in peace, while swaying to the music.
Big Wild is someone that I have such a giddy time seeing perform. I was on the other side of the festival, probably wanting more naan or tacos, when he came on stage. As soon as I heard Big Wild begin I jumped in the air, made an embarrassing squeal and dance-skipped all the way to the stage area. I don’t know if it’s the deep vibration of the drums when he plays, or the fact his music in general has such a happy and upbeat tune, but that is an artist I have seen multiple times and plan to continue seeing. Breaking Biscuits was a fun collaboration I was eager to see.
Breaking Biscuits is a side project that brings together the guys of Break Science with the very talented keyboardist and bassist of the infamous Disco Biscuits…honestly what could sound better than that? This group brought all the jammy feels without hitting plateaus in their set, something that is hard to do in 7 minute long songs. Break Science added their hints of hard electronic tones to the songs and all in all everyone couldn’t help but dance around, making friends in the process.
Russ Liquid Test, oh was I so happy when I saw you. This group performed in the late night building and did they kill it. Their live-electro, psychedelic funky sound filled the building with a burst of energy and groovy waves that no one could escape. The late night stage they performed on was made with laser-etched wood framing around the top and sides of it and color changing lights that shown through them, plus a virtual screen that had different images flashing from it. The music and performances provided at this festival were top notch to say the least.
Besides the music and venue set up itself, there were a few different areas within the festival where people could go to explore art installations, participate in workshops, and meditate. This area had a variety of gypsy looking tents set up in grass (i’m in Arizona?!) and within those tents there were pillows, rugs, and other bedding material to make yourself comfortable. There were beautiful cloth style chandeliers hanging from the tents and some had massage tables if you wanted to get a specific type of massage. The workshops included: event sustainability, yoga, being present in the community, consent, and much more. Gem & Jam also included a drum circle area were at various times in the day they would hold drumming ceremonies and classes for any that were interested in participating.
Some of the art installations were pretty trippy and so much fun to discover while I checked out every inch of the festival. In the grass area of the festival they had these large and intriguing alien-like “gods” all set up in a circle each holding different items with foreign letters and symbols written around them in a sort of halo, along with structures shaped like giant crystals popping out of the earth. The festival also had lights hanging from the palm trees scattered throughout the venue and of course an art gallery full of paintings, photos and LED art from pretty big name artists. Gem & Jam also had many live painters that you could find by every stage, painting anything from nature scenery, psychedelic experiences, deity interpretations, etc.
One of my favorite encounters and pieces of art though was the Trolley Llama, a company owned party bus trolley decorated in clothes, parasols, and festival-gypsy decor and had the most comfortable outdoor living room set up I have ever seen at a festival, plus all the amazing individuals who came with the trolley and made it an experience in itself.
Out of everything that I experienced at this festival, I think the most important factor Gem & Jam had to offer was the people. During the entirety of the weekend I met dozens of individuals who all welcomed me to Arizona and the festival with open arms and positive attitudes. Yes there were many people who were from California, Texas, etc that I encountered but the vast majority of people were from Arizona (duh) and I had no idea how friendly they were until attending this festival. Even the people working security, guiding you to your parking pass spot, or scanning wristbands at the front were all incredibly hospitable and cracking jokes whenever possible. I didn’t see any fights, I didn’t see security making people feel uncomfortable, I saw eyes all around me full of excitement and people ready to help you enjoy your experience at Gem & Jam in whatever way they could. Gem & Jam impressed me whole-heartedly and I cannot wait to go back!