Gem and Jam 2017: Where Music, Minerals and Art Collide [Review]
Every year, thousands flock to the small sand-dusted city of Tucson, AZ to experience the wonders of the Gem, Mineral and Fossil show. Driving around “the best 23 miles of Mexican food in America” during late January and early February, one will find much more than burritos and tumbleweeds. During this time, hotels are filled with out-of-towners and the streets are aligned with a magnitude of tents as vendors display and sell some of the most precious gemstones the world has to offer. While the downtown Tucson area turns from a quiet southwestern town to a bustling desert city, music production companies Infinite Music, Euphonic Conceptions and Challenger have curated a transformational oasis otherwise known as Gem and Jam Festival on the outskirts of town filled with top tier music, art, and merchandise.
While Gem and Jam has seen steady growth throughout the past decade, the festival still contains a certain intimacy. Spanning across three main stages and a late night warehouse, attendees were warm and welcoming throughout the weekend. It was easy to maneuver through the crowd; whether it was toward the front rail or weaving in and out of the vendors and installations. The back end of the festival grounds laid host to two main stages, dozens of vendors, and live painters scattered throughout.
On Saturday, the festival reached a musical high note. The Emerald Stage hosted epic performances from the drippy trumpet-infused sounds of the Russ Liquid Test followed by the face-melting, bass heavy tracks produced by the explosive G Jones that had the whole crowd going crazy. Perhaps what might have been the musical climax of the weekend was Gramatik‘s banger of a set that closed out the main stage Saturday night. The Lowtemp label founder combined traditional blues, jazz, and hip-hop with a bass-infused, electro-swing style that ended day two main stage music with a fury.
Sunday brought a slightly more chill vibe back to the Emerald Stage. Starting with guitar aficionado Steve Kimock and Friends drawing out jams and sharing the stage with a local performing arts collective, Cirque Roots, who had fire spinners hypnotizing the audience. After a synth-heavy groove session from east coast producer Com Truise, it was time to finish strong with the upbeat funk outfit, The Motet. All weekend long, the Emerald Stage housed astonishing visual projections, however, Sunday was especially eye-catching as Johnathan Singer laid his genius to the melting psychedelia being displayed on the main stage visualizer throughout the evening.
Situated only a few hundred feet behind the Emerald Stage was the Tanzanite Stage. Separated by a large pavilion that served as an art gallery on one side and displayed a magnificent view of the rigid red rock mountain range on the other. The Tanzanite Stage saw its share of rowdiness throughout the weekend. As the crowd began to pile in on Friday, organic bass producer and violinist HAANA let her sound ring out through the pathways and welcomed many to this area of the fest. By nightfall, The Infamous Stringdusters had taken the stage. One of the only bluegrass acts on the bill this year, the Stringdusters got the crowd stomping and warmed up for the final Tanzanite Stage performance of the day. Sibling duo, The Floozies, closed down this stage with one of the most fun and groovy sets of the weekend.
Saturday saw the highest attendance throughout the weekend but for good reason. Between the stacked schedule on both headlining stages, it was hard to catch a breath. Starting with the syncopated, laid-back styling of Late Night Radio followed by the crunchy, gooey bass music via Opiuo. After a stellar performance from jamtronic front-runners Lotus that closed down the Tanzanite Stage, music lovers agreed that Saturday was a good day for music.
Sunday saw the Tanzanite Stage take a slightly more relaxed approach. The evening started with the folk-infused quintet Gipsy Moon. Another major musical highlight from the weekend was during Poolside‘s time slot. The light-hearted House duo let their atmospheric vibes bring out the smiles in everyone as painter Chris Dyer finished his art piece live on stage next to the DJ table. Finally, one last energetic push was made by livetronica trio The New Deal, whose fast paced synth-laden jams progressed in front of a jaw dropping light display.
While it might have been easy to get lost for hours pacing between headliners at the main stages, the true soul and epicenter of the festival surrounded the Quartz Stage. Located near the front range of the festival grounds, the Quartz Stage was the smallest — but most intricate — stage on display. Created out of woodwork and rope, the Quartz Stage laid claim to many of the lesser known and local acts. Musical highlights included: a hip-hop inspired, horn-laden jam from Tnertle on Friday, a debut performance from Tucson-based DnB supergroup Onism Qi on Saturday, and a crowd-pleasing dance party with Gem and Jam veterans Electric Feel on Sunday.
Situated in a grassy nook surrounded by palm trees, through the dense patches of poi spinners and hula hoopers, the courtyard beside the Quartz Stage contained a more spiritual release. On the one side, there was a whole area dedicated to holistic healing. Areas to sit and enjoy an herbal tea, get a massage, acupuncture, or learn about balance and longevity were open for all to come enjoy. On the other side of the sound system and quartz clusters was the workshop sanctuary. This area was a hot spot during the day as festival goers came together to learn everything from AcroYoga, to Crystal Healing and Spiritual Nutrition.
As the sunny days turned to chilly evenings and the main stages ended for the night, patrons began to head toward the late-night shows. This year Gem and Jam hosted on-site afters in a large warehouse located just off the main drag near the center of the festival. Opening its doors after midnight, the Onyx Stage contained a certain west coast warehouse rave aesthetic. Large wood-carved panels were aligned on stage while art and aerials were in motion next to the speakers.
Friday night, California House music collective Desert Hearts bumped a three hour long B2B2B set with Lee Reynolds, Mikey Lion and Marbs that felt like an underground L.A. after hours. Saturday night contained a more drippy feel as glitch gangster Thriftworks preceded the mysterious Dimond Saints. The blend of warm trap and dub-filled bounce played through the warehouse as smoke filled the stage area and lights reflected off of the duos mirrored masks. Saturday night ended early into Sunday morning. Colorado native Maddy O’ Neal let her brand of electro carry those left dancing into the dawn.
After a wildly danceable set from The Funk Hunters, Sunday evening in the warehouse brought the first band to play under its roof during the entire weekend. Play! The Dead was a rock supergroup featuring Jeff Chementi of Dead and Co. alongside Steve Kimock and others who played out amazing renditions of Grateful Dead songs that closed the festival in proper style.
While musically Gem and Jam may have outdone themselves with their lineup this year, what was even more impressive was the clear fusion of art and collective consciousnesses running through the undertow. While each stage contained a plethora of ear-catching music, the amount of live painters and art galleries situated around each stage was impressive. With each stage containing aerial flow art or fire spinning action as well as dozens of interactive art installations sprinkled throughout its pathways, it was clear that Gem and Jam wanted to immerse its attendees in an arena where the arts collide in an explosion of enlightenment, transformation, and individuality.