Tucked into Coconino National Forest off a remote exit on Interstate 17, Playa Ponderosa is home to one of Arizona’s newest and brightest festivals.
June(tember) Jam, capped at just 1,200 attendees, was an intimate, collaborative festival that had the feel of a casual Labor Day weekend campout, yet you’re surrounded by beautiful art, thoughtful production, hundreds of friendly faces, and excellent music.
The festival, known regularly as June Jam, rescheduled its 2021 production for September in the midst of all the COVID-19 uncertainty. Despite the challenges organizers faced over the last year and a half, the show went on for three days filled with music, art, and exploration from September 3 to 6, 2021 in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The event venue, Playa Ponderosa, is a nature lover’s paradise, boasting an impressive 75 acres at 7,200 feet of elevation.
By day, the Ponderosa Pine skyline borders a bright blue sky. Wildflowers are plentiful and the air is refreshingly crisp. Workshop facilitators educate festival-goers about Shibari, Tarot, essential oils, trauma processing, sustainability, juggling, and slinky manipulation. Movement instructors take attendees through physical journeys of pranayama breathing, belly dancing, kundalini yoga flow, and restorative yoga.
By night, the ancient pines come alive with colorful lighting, live art, and musical performances featuring house, techno, and psychedelic bass beats. Fire spinners flow to the sounds from the mainstage beside a burner-style vintage dune buggy, equipped with a bubble machine and flaming apparatus on its hood.
The thoughtfulness of June(tember) Jam organizers was felt everywhere, whether you were chilling in hammocks and cuddle dens scattered throughout the grounds, or warming up next to the fire pit at each stage. These are just a few examples of those little details that took the festival to the next level.
Attendees were able to spruce up at the Beautification Station, a lounge dedicated to enhancing the June(tember) Jam experience through self-care services and a co-created costume and clothing exchange. The station’s organizer collected, cleaned, and upcycled old costumes and festival clothing prior to the event, allowing festival-goers to peruse fashionable offerings and take whatever they wish.
And there was, of course, music.
The well-rounded lineup included Moontricks, Random Rab, Navigators, and Nox Vahn as main headliners. Local Arizona favorites who also performed include Twyatt Slurp, SoundScrybe, Unexpected Pedestrian, Kevin Void, Roil, and Dru West.
Equipped with four stages, music began at 11:00 a.m. and crept into the early hours of the morning. The main stage, The Porch, hosted more of the bass-heavy production while The Oasis stage was home to house performances for most of the weekend. The newest stage additions, The Promenade and The Nook, were two smaller, intimate late-night stages tucked further into the woods.
A notable highlight of the weekend was the Random Rab sunrise set. While Random Rab is known for sunrise performances, this one was a little different. He opened the Sunday morning set by announcing that, before the pandemic, he would play the sunrise set at Burning Man on that same morning every year since 1998. Since Black Rock City is taking a hiatus until 2022, Rab chose to spend this day with June(tember) Jammers.
He took the audience on a journey from darkness to light with his usual melodic, uplifting beats while incorporating several unreleased tracks into his extended three-hour set. During the final song, Rab stepped down from the stage to dance alongside crowd members. The set finished with a massive group hug between Rab and the audience.
Experiencing this festival and all of its thoughtfulness after a year that has shaken the music festival community to its core was truly a gift. After witnessing the Arizona festival scene’s post-pandemic revival, there’s no question that hope is still alive. Festivals are coming back and better than ever before.