“An oasis in the desert, the Gem and Jam brings together art, music, rare minerals, and new age ideology”
In the Sonoran Desert south of Tucson on weekend of February 2nd – 5th, artists, music lovers, and gem and mineral enthusiasts gathered together for a meeting of the minds. The Gem and Jam Music Festival, which coincides with the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, is every bit as much as of an art festival as a music festival. This unique blend of people creates an idyllic environment bursting with creativity.
When entering the festival, I was first taken aback at the variety and number of art installations, paintings and live painters. A pyramid decorated with a dragon motif and surrounded by wood burning orbs flanked the Tanzanite stage and the campground entrance, providing incredible warmth at night.
A pavilion separating the Tanzanite stage from the larger Emerald stage, served as an art gallery for festival goers to browse through between shows. Meanwhile, directly in front of the main Emerald stage, countless live painters were set up in a grassy area working on pieces throughout the weekend.
The Quartz stage, which hosted smaller artists and workshops, featured enormous clear quartz matrixes provided by the Arkansas quartz and mineral vendors. This stage was centered in a magical courtyard filled with sculptures and interactive installations.
Late night shows were hosted indoors. Not only did this provide shelter from the cold desert air at night, but lent to the idea that one was at an underground warehouse party.
On Friday night of the festival, The Infamous Stringdusters warmed up the crowd with their upbeat yet down-to-earth bluegrass tunes. The jam session continued with a performance from Mike Gordon of Phish, followed by the increasingly popular sibling duo The Floozies.
The night came to a climax with The Trancident, a side project of The String Cheese Incident, which felt like an SCI secret set. The Trancident seamlessly moved from abstract electronic music, to an instrumental version of “Rosie,” to a cover of The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.” The night wrapped up with the Desert Hearts Showcase in the warehouse.
On Saturday, I caught a free shuttle offered by the festival to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. The shuttle, which ran on a two-hour loop, dropped us off in the center of the show at the River Park Inn. After browsing through vendors of spectacular crystals, precious stones and fossils, we were picked up by the shuttle and headed back to the festival.
The first show I caught Saturday night was Russ Liquid Test who brought the funk to the desert and got the crowd moving. Next, Opiuo played the Tanzanite stage accompanied by aerial dancers. G Jones followed on the main stage. As the night continued to build, Lotus took the audience on a journey through space and time with their live jamtronica.
Gramatik closed out the main stage with a show that combines blues, jazz, bass music, hip-hop, electro-swing and intense visual graphics.
Late night consisted of a warehouse party featuring Thriftworks and Dimond Saints dropping deep bass beats.
Sunday had an overarching Grateful Dead theme. Steve Kimock, who has been a part of many Grateful Dead offshoots, opened up the Emerald stage with meandering jams and performance artists spinning fire.
Poolside, with Chris Dyer painting onstage, brought an all-out dance party to the Tanzanite stage. Keeping with the Grateful Dead theme, poolside played an uptempo version of the disco dead classic, Shakedown Street. The highlight of Poolside’s set, however, was the unveil of Chris Dyer’s painting which he has been working on during the weekend. With a rainbow flag flying high above the audience, I was reminded that there is no more accepting group of people than the art and dance music community.
Com Truise, whose music is surprisingly chill despite the bass that reverberates through one’s body, took the main stage. I used this set as an opportunity to sit in front of the live painters at this stage to see the progress on their nearly completed artwork.
Next came The New Deal, followed by the last mainstage act of the festival, The Motet. Lyle Divinsky, vocalist of The Motet, encouraged festival goers to “finish strong.” Despite a long weekend of dancing, tired and sore festival attendees were revitalized by the funky grooves of the Motet.
Late night was again hosted in the warehouse, but instead of the distinctive rave vibes like the previous nights, Play the Dead! Supergroup featuring Steve Kimock and members of The Motet harkened back to the classic tunes of the Grateful Dead, grandfathers of the modern-day festival scene.
The Gem and Jam, with its sun-drenched days and crisp nights, was one of the most diverse music festivals I have ever attended. Its focus on art, minerals and holistic living created an environment in which everyone could feel comfortable expressing themselves. The people I met in the desert this weekend not only inspired me to be a more open and creative person, but restored my faith in humanity as a whole.