Why Gem and Jam is the Psychedelic Melting Pot of a Fest Everyone Should Attend [Festival Review]

What can I say? Gem and Jam 2017 kicked off festival season for me in ways I never expected  and only dreamed of. Last year’s G&J harnessed the same effect and ever since my first trip to the desert oasis, I had been patiently waiting for February to roll around again. Well, the time was nigh, the car packed, the gas tank full, and we were off to experience a weekend unlike any other. The festival is sweetly snuggled during the annual month long Tucson Gem and Mineral show, which is the largest of its kind in the world and brings hundreds of thousands of fossil and mineral lovers alike to Tucson for a one of a kind meet up that has been happening for over sixty years.  The Gem Show itself is enough of a reason to spend some time in Tucson every year, but the fact that we get specifically curated gathering for conscious beings who have damn great taste in music and an un writhing passion for creativity and art, seals the deal. Running eleven years strong now, Gem and Jam Festival encapsulates all aspects of an enjoyable festival experience, colorfully highlights them and then skyrockets them into uncharted realms of enchantment.  

The new venue of Pima County Fairgrounds on the Southeastern side of town was buzzing with excitement as thousands of eager music lovers ascended to frolic in pure goodness and explore the freshly unveiled territory. With ample camping space, easy to follow directions and genuine smiles for days, Gem and Jam 2017 was officially underway.

Let us just note how perfect the home stretch of Winter in Tucson is. Warm sun for a few heated hours of the afternoon with lows in the fifties at night, making Gem and Jam the prime festival for both cuddle puddlin’ and dressing up in full on festival garb of all kinds. The desert sunrises and sunsets are unmatchable…the mountains turn a cotton candy pink as the sky slowly whisks shades of lavender, gold, and blues for days over the rocky mountains until the night sky is almost as LIT at the thousands of gem and jammers playing underneath its infinite umbrella.  

Gem and Jam’s lineup this year was indubitably solid from first word and featured FOUR jam packed days and nights of a wide variety of nothing but raw talent and relentless creativity. With almost as many visionary artists and performers as musical acts, G&J leaves endless beauty to behold, mischief to make, art to create and gems to jam. Jaw Gems and EOTO stole my heart for Thursday’s warm up shenanigans with an EOTO set different than any EOTO sets in all of EOTO history. Jason Hahn and Michael Travis are undisputed improvisational robots who create each musical experience from scratch…no backing tracks, no pre-recorded loops, just straight up beat by beat, sound by sound, to produce an intergalactic auditory wonderland fusion of Electronic, Drum and Bass, Dubstep and all things far out. The Quartz Stage was immaculately decorated with gigantic quartz clusters lining the iridescently lighted stage, creating an intimate and super hetti vibe for the entire festival.

When it comes to scheduling, Gem and Jam knows what TF is up. The music plays almost 24-7 with almost NO overlaps, creating a non stop creative psychedelic portal of music, love, crystals and good vibes. The Quartz Stage creates the perfect all day ambience with interactive art installations abound and plenty of grass to sprawl yourself over before the the bigger acts kick off as the desert sun wans. Friday we hit up Meera Hoffman’s Scared Thai Massage workshop, where we were able to delve with our fellow humans into the art and amazingness that is Thai body work, before the extraordinarily talented Häana whisked us away into night one of G&J. The Kyle Hollingsworth Band always brings the feel good jams, followed by The Infamous Stringdusters, whose soul quenching bluegrass sound brought the most solid of the genre all weekend. Denver’s Tnertle captured my heart with their babe squad of a percussion section and their intoxicatingly groovy electro-soul-funk-hip hop sound.  Funkadelic and brass connoisseur Ryan Viser joined in for some funky fun, adding a cherry on top of an already delectable performance. The Floozies played probably one of the most insane sets I have witnessed the Hill brothers play, dropping all of the new unreleased bangers and leaving the crowd aching for more flooz. Next up came the highly anticipated Trancident set, composed of the String Cheese Incident’s Jason Hann, Michael Travis, Michael Kang and Kyle Hollingsworth. A side project of Cheese that hardly ever plays and Gem and Jam was blessed enough to get the funk down at an transcendental Incident never to be forgotten (imagine if Cheese and EOTO had an alien baby and there you are).  After The Trancident, we snaked through the unfaltering abundance of imagination and endless portals of beauty created to lose ourselves in: top notch performance artists (Shout out to The Sacred G’s, Cirque Roots Studio, Arkansas Circus Arts), hands on installations (Shout out to Because of the Lotus, The Praying Mantis Man, The Trolley Llama and all the other badass installs I do not have the names for), live visionary painting at every corner (too many to shout out but unlimited kudos and awe to The Welch Brothers and Tribe 13 Gallery for curating the most inspiring and incredible art galleries for us to feast our eyes, souls and wallets on all weekend!)

The late nights are another slice of undisputed goodness that G&J properly serves up for its attendees. As the temperature dropped and everyone threw on the hettiest of the hetti festival gear, the Onyx Warehouse was the prime place to get down. A space hidden away until the late hours of the night, where it’s primary purpose becomes a warm spot to get the funk down all night long. Friday offered house lovers an underground atmosphere as Desert Hearts ejaculated three hours of B2B takeover goodness with Lee Reynolds, Mikey Lion and Marbs dishing out the best of House ‘til just before sunrise.

Saturday was when the entirety of weirdos came out to play. Late Night Radio brought the drum forward, livetronica funky jams, before The Russ Liquid Test and Opiuo played two of my favorite sets of the weekend. The Russ Liquid Test melds classic funk and inventive electronic production deeply rooted in NOLA Jazz and hip hop. Russell Scott completely slays the trumpet, creating an infectious sound that had everyone wondering why they weren’t bigger fans already. Opiuo came all the way from New Zealand with his syrupy, dripping, funky, bassy sound to melt our faces all the way into our dancing feet. Pretty sure I straight lost it when he played a mystery remix of GRiZ ft. Cherub’s “PS GFY”.  Honorable mention to Kll Smth’s killer set on the Quartz Stage, cascading the festival’s energy into it’s whomping peak when Dr. G Jones served us an unhealthy (Pssh…yeah right!) dose of bass in our face. I can now officially say I am a G Jones fan, although I am super bummed I missed Evanoff’s set due to the fact I couldn’t stop dropping it down low for one second to leave G Jone’s set. Lotus brought the heat next, altering the vibes back to the post rock jam sound to dismantle the basshead and switch it up before Gramatik served up his electronic sauce all over the more than consensual crowd of Lowtemp lovers. The goodness does not ever stop at Gem and Jam, let me tell you, ‘cause Saturday was just getting started.

The late night Onyx Stage brought Thriftworks (who unfortunately experienced some technical difficulties during his set), my current favorite electronic duo Dimond Saints, who just released the most deliciously fresh ep Prism in the Dark, and dropped the grimy, crunchy and sexy bass until the babe of babes herself, Maddy O’Neal, brought her unique blend of flavorful tastes in all respected genres in the game. Her passion and drive shine through her beaming grin as she takes the crowd on a roller coaster ride you never want to end with special appearances from the pizza man himself, Dwayne Jubee Webb, kicking it fresh with his woke words and unstoppable stage presence and Ryan Viser, slaying the game one trumpet note at a time.

If you were able to get some rest Saturday morning, props to you, because once the sun came up on Sunday, my drive to continue raging face until the very last minute of music was in full swing. After some mimosas and an attempted hammock “rest,” the crew assembled to soak in all Sunday had to offer its worn out Gem and Jammers. We casually strolled through the endless shakedown of badass vendors selling only the finest of goods all weekend, as a ‘Circus Jam’ workshop had the Amethyst Stage filled with eager flowers and circus jammers learning new skills basked in the warming sunshine. Sunday served as a way more chill, instrument heavy, reprise from the electric mayhem of an entirely different circus that was Saturday’s shenanigans.
Gipsy Moon, a folk outfit from the beautiful Rocky Mountains, sailed us into the otherworldly realms of Gipsy pluckin’ lovin’ before Steve Kimock and Friends jammed out alongside Cirque Roots, a local performing arts group complete with mesmerizing fire flowers. L.A.’s Poolside took the Tanzanite Stage next bringing their daytime disco sounds to a highly receptive crowd while Chris Dyer painted on stage and lots of friends made cameos to add to the fun. Com Truise blew my mind with his slow-motion synth whomps as we grooved front row (with plenty of room for activities) through his entire set on the Emerald Stage.  HUGE shoutout to the insanely talented visual and light designers crushing the more than eye pleasing stage vibes ALL weekend long (Jonathan Singer, Carter Adams, Steven Haman, Cody Lisle, Jansen Wright, Jack Kern, Matthew Childers and Matthew “Jonezy” Jones). Definitely the best visuals on stage this gal has ever seen…and I have seen a lot of stages! Toronto’s The New Deal was up next…and hot damn! They are the livetronica truth. If you ever see them in a city near you…buy a ticket and take the deal. Denver’s funkiest bunch The Motet took the reigns next, sending us into a funky oblivion of jams and feel good hits that proved to any who were questioning the band’s incredible “new” members, Lyle and Drew.  The Funk Hunters kicked off the late night set proper– bringing the hot fire to the Onyx House as everyone’s last wind throttled through to finish G&J off strong. Play! the Dead took charge right around 2 a.m., bringing the first band of the weekend inside the warehouse. This set was something real special and one that a lot of Gem and Jammers had been waiting all weekend for. Featuring Steve Kimock, Jeff Chimenti, Bobby Vega, Wally Ingram, Dave Abear and members of The Motet, the collaborative effort produced a Dead set unlike one seen before. A perfect cap to a mind blowingly orgasmic weekend.

Gem and Jam has taken the implications of a “festival” and transformed it to an entirely different spectrum of kaleidoscopic proportions. Every box is checked: delicious food options, the hettiest of vendors, the most delectable crowd and vibe (at the perfect size), the most badass gems and jams you have EVER feasted upon, multiple different spaces dedicated to healing, growth and learning, a brag worthy lineup on ALL fronts and a psychedelic melting pot of jams to gem and gems to jam. We cannot wait to keep coming back…for all the years to come!

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