Written by Jocelyn Dietrich
Photos by Rhys Sloss
In the words of Masego: “I’ve never seen so many colors and so many hula hoops!”
Gem and Jam was a flowy, colorful explosion of deep beats and the grooviest art, so much love and those friendly west coast vibes. Cozily situated just 10 miles south of Tucson city limits, Pima County Fairgrounds hosted the 12th annual Gem and Jam.
Tucson, AZ is the proud home of the world renowned Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, running three official weeks with events scattered before and after. Tucson host over 55,000 travelers just in these few short weeks. Morocco, Ireland, Turkey, and Australia were just a few of the countries represented at the Showcase. Some of the things on display are not even legal. Literally. It is most definitely a sight to see. The best part about gem shows is that gem people LOVE to talk about their gems, so you’re never left wondering.
Gem and Jam was the kick off to this warm little city’s big month. Rumor has it that back in the day, Sound Tribe Sector 9 played a show at The Hut on February 4, 2007 – the first weekend of the Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase. Unbeknownst to them, the now Gem and Jam creators wanted to host an after party for this show, so they put on their party planning pants and booked some music. It was a hit! They did it again the next year and the year after, and then again the year after, until 12 years later it’s still going strong! They still host that same function, just exponentially larger, with camping, for the entire weekend and now that lil old band STS9 is on their schedule – headlining! Two nights of Sound Tribe was most definitely special to all parties involved. And if you didn’t know why, you still felt it in the red hot fire they played on Friday night.
The weekend started picking up with mad musical scientist Saqi on the Emerald stage–a perfect way to start the evening. The Portland based, classically trained producer grew up on a commune, double majored in Music Education and Composition in college, and played the trumpet throughout his entire life. His combination of talents, knowledge and soul make for a powerhouse feeling.
The Emerald stage was the “main stage” situated on a cozy field of grass. The small hill in the back made for optimal viewing of the gem stone clad stage and led directly into the covered pavillion of vendors. The field was consistently scattered with flow artist galore and a live painting pod in the midst of it all. There were flow artists intermittently on stage, but those that I encountered out and about in the festival were next level. I eventually put it together that most of them had been the performers on stage as well. The painters were on the same page as the flow artists. With wild colors, psychedelic themes and thought provoking visions, it was no wonder these awe inspiring artists were on display at such a colorful and creative event. Watching Sydwox painting of a river flowing through trees growing on a barren planet evolve through the weekend was as magnificent as Random Rab at sunset. Matthew Frederice and John Speaker (from Philadelphia, PA) also caught my attention early on and kept me coming back to check in on their ever evolving brush work.
The music ping-ponged from The Emerald stage to the other side of the vendor’s pavillion, the Tanzanite stage, all weekend, allowing time for you to comfortably relocate for the next act without missing anything and maybe even shopping in between! Saqui led to bluegrass heros Railroad Earth then to Emancipator, giving just a little taste of the diversity of this festival.
While the main stages stayed blazing, the two side stages were hosting their own wild parties all weekend. Deep house beats bumped from the Quartz and Opal stage ALL hours of the weekend. The daytime hot spot was the Quartz stage, with a lovely grassy space to lounge, more vendors to shop, and killer food. The tacos definitely stole my heart – with their appropriately named Gem and Jam taco taking the cake. There were vegan options, specialty coffee, and even an Indian food truck making fresh naan. The prices were some of the lowest I’ve ever encountered at a festival which only inspired us to try everything. There was also an on-site bar with a nightly happy hour!
Late night music went inside to the Onyx stage – a large, indoor space with heat. Side note: the nights were absolutely frigid. 40 degrees felt much colder than I anticipated it would. Spending some time inside was very enjoyable, especially with sounds of Russ Liquid Test, Michal Menert, and John Kadlecik and the Fellowship of the Wing. We briefly caught up with John and the Fellowship pre Sunday night soundcheck and it was plain to see the they were enjoying Gem and Jam as much as the rest of us. There is definitely something to these gems and their vibrations, we were all feeling it.
Camping at Gem and Jam couldn’t have been any easier. You had your choice of walk-in or car camping, everything within one hundred yards of the gate. There were shuttles that ran throughout the day from the grounds into Tucson, stopping at multiple highlighted showcases. Basically, they thought of absolutely everything and made it more than accessible for everyone to enjoy.
Some of the musical highlights of this eclectic weekend were Railroad Earth, Papadosio, and STS9, of course. Friday night was not shy. Papadosio is no stranger to gatherings of this sort, as their set let us know. Their sound fit the desert evening and the colorful accents perfectly, as if they were the event curators. STS9’s Friday night set was heavier and deeper than what I’ve known them to be. It seemed as though every single person at the festival was in the field, moving and grooving. From classics like Scheme and When the Dust Settles, to unknown super jams, no one was sitting down for this one.
Lettuce was the sundown throw down on Saturday. With horns and grooves like no other, they warmed us up as the night cooled off. Big Wild and Breaking Biscuits took Saturday night right over the top! Big Wild’s fun-loving feels had everyone dancing, and Breaking Biscuits took us on a ride through the decades and genres with covers of Prince, Roy Ayers, Pink Floyd and Breakwater/Daft Punk.
Random Rab, Masego, Thriftworks, and always epic Lettuce closed out the weekend on Sunday leaving nothing to be desired. Random Rab took us on a spiritual journey into the most sacred space, gracefully and mystically sweeping the day into night. Masego, the young charmer, followed up with almost every song from his Pink Polo LP and then some. He sang, danced and saxophone – ed his way right into the hearts of all. And if that didn’t do it for you, his giant contagious smile most definitely did. Thriftworks took the night with his downtempo, experimental glitch topped with his deep and dirty rhymes.
Late night Dead sets by John K and the Fellowship in the warm Onyx stage setting were the perfect ending to this magical weekend.
Tucson, the Gem Showcase, and Gem and Jam all combined make for a phenomenally massive positive vibration that is completely undeniable. From the camp grounds, to the vendors, to the music, and of course the gems, there were beautiful sights to see and so much love to feel. If you’ve never made it to Gem and Jam – I’d recommend this is one to put on the top of your list!
Check out the graph below for a quick and easy review of Gem and Jam on a 1 (low) to 10 (high) scale.