Minerals for sale. Photo by: RJ Harvey
Minerals for sale. Photo by: RJ Harvey

One of the Southwest’s most eclectic festivals is back and bigger than ever. 

Gem & Jam will return to the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Arizona from January 31 to February 2, 2020, after taking a year off in 2019. The first phase of artist announcements includes Tipper, Big Gigantic, The Floozies, Twiddle, Billy Strings, and supergroup TH3 comprised of Michael Travis, Jason Hann, and Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident and Matt Hill of the Floozies. 

Other noteworthy acts include Manic Focus, Desert Dwellers, Thriftworks, Mersiv, Kitchen Dwellers, and a Desert Hearts Takeover featuring Mikey Lion, Marbs, RYBO, and Lubelski. 

I had the opportunity to interview one of Gem & Jam’s founders, Josh Pollack, to get the scoop on the 2019 hiatus, what new is in store for 2020, and more. 

After taking a year off in 2019, it seems Gem and Jam is back in full swing for 2020. Can you elaborate on why the festival took a break? Was it always the plan to come back after a year off?

Yes, we are most definitely back in full swing for 2020! The festival took a break for a few reasons, most notably for our team to get re-motivated and re-energized in order to produce the best event possible. Things weren’t falling into place for our 2019 installment and we collectively decided that we’d rather take a year off  than force something that didn’t feel right. 

There were a few things from 2018 that in hindsight we would’ve done differently, and the team all agreed that taking a year off to reflect and go back to the drawing board was the best course of action for the festivals’ well being. We always intended on taking a year off and get a fresh and early start on planning Gem and Jam 2020, and I think that is reflected on how awesome this years’ lineup is!

What changes can Gem and Jammers expect to see this year?

The most noteworthy change that we’re working on for 2020 is an overall tightening up of the site layout and grounds, to make things less spread out than in previous years at the fairgrounds. Things will be laid out a bit differently, with a few tweaks to improve the flow and enhance the overall experience. We’re excited to try out a few new things that I cannot divulge at the moment but will be rolled out as the event gets closer.

What expectations, if any, do you have for Gem and Jam 2020?

This years’ expectations have been set quite high, as we are certainly feeling the additional anticipation building as a result of taking a year off, and the extra planning time has been working in our benefit. 

Personally, I think that the lineup this year is the most diverse and well-rounded that we’ve ever put together, and that has been translating very positively with our fans. Our whole team has set the bar a little higher this year, and we’re confident that will deliver our best installment of Gem and Jam yet.

Gem and Jam has consistently provided a unique experience with acts like The Trancident in 2017, Breaking Biscuits in 2018, and now TH³ for 2020. Can you elaborate on the intention behind booking these kinds of acts?

The intention is exactly that, providing a unique experience of an act that you normally wouldn’t have the chance to see outside of Gem and Jam. This year we are taking things up a notch and have put together a supergroup that has never played together live before. That really embodies the eclectic vibe of the musical offerings at Gem and Jam, as we always strive to bring something different and exciting each year. We do have a few more surprises in store as well!

Are there any live-painters/artists you’re excited to bring out this year?

We’ve gotten a huge amount of live painter applications and we’re thrilled to have so many amazing artists interested in sharing their art at the festival. Expect some large scale collaborations and, as per usual, a stunning art gallery to coincide with the live art. Check back with us for the live painter line up that will be released later this year.

This is the 13th annual Gem and Jam. Can you describe how you’ve seen the festival has evolved since it was founded? What has been the most challenging, and most rewarding, part of the whole process? 

Every year the festival has evolved in some way or another. The festival started as a nightlife option for people attending the Tucson Gem Show, and it’s grown organically into its own stand alone entity. Checking out the gem shows in Tucson now comes as a second priority to the actual festival for the majority of our attendees. 

Also, the festivals’ growth in popularity has prompted a shift away from venues in Tucson to a more expansive setting, outside of town, to the Pima County Fairgrounds. The site upgrade has given us much more flexibility with our overall programming and turning Gem and Jam into a full on camping festival was a major evolution for us. 

The most rewarding piece of the whole process is by far the extraordinary feeling of bringing people together, and providing a vehicle for peoples’ inspiration, creativity and connection makes all the hard work worth it.

On a more personal note, what does Gem and Jam mean to you? 

Gem and Jam is extra special for me, because it’s an event that we work on for about 9 months of the year, which far surpasses any other event that I’m a part of. Spending time coordinating different elements of the festival has been a wonderful experience and I truly love the curation process. 

It’s a festival that is so unique and staying true to that ethos makes the planning super exciting. Also, it means sharing the love and energy that is put into the event and being a firsthand witness to the joy that it brings so many people, it is the essence of why I produce events. 

Any final thoughts or comments? 

I hope that my excitement translates, and if you haven’t been to a Gem and Jam before, you really just need to experience joining this tightly knit community. It’s quite difficult to put into words how magical this gathering is. And if you have been out to a Gem and Jam in the past, I really do appreciate your support, as does the rest of the team, and we hope that you’ll come and join us again in 2020!