Photos by: Jesska Cvijanovic (214)
Story by: Christian Cortes (SoundScrybe)
The dust has settled and the 2016 festival season has shifted its gaze to the long journey ahead following another mesmerizing Gem & Jam Festival. Unfolding beneath the painted skies of Tucson, AZ—a progressive-city-turned-crystal-sanctuary each February when the world’s largest gem and mineral show takes place within its cactus-lined borders—Gem & Jam celebrated its tenth anniversary February 12-14th with an eclectic lineup of musicians and artists that drew thousands of attendees from across the country to the warmth and sunshine of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.
Though hosted at the same venue that has housed Gem & Jam in recent years, this year’s festival saw a welcomed facelift as organizers expanded the festival grounds with a new stage and space to accommodate more patrons and vendors. Adding a small but fully-utilized campground next to the venue, as well as a more efficient ticketing system that made for lightning-fast entrance to the festival, Gem & Jam’s organizers seem to have listened to feedback from last year to create an overall more enjoyable experience for all parties involved.
On the sonic front, Gem & Jam’s lineup offered a taste of everything despite its underground music roots. With electronic twists on popular twentieth-century sounds including disco, swing, jazz and funk, as well as a healthy dose of jam music, electro-pop, house and psychedelic bass, Gem & Jam brought a full spectrum of sound to the stage this year.
In an interesting scheduling feat, the biggest bangers were concentrated almost entirely on the main stage (Quartz stage) on the second day of the festival. Featuring back-to-back world-class acts from open to close, Saturday was the day to get weird and dance all night as Dirtwire, Govinda, Desert Dwellers, The Polish Ambassador, Ott, and Beats Antique took the stage in a nine-hour orgy of sonic bliss. Bursting with evocative traditional instrumentation, charged-up psychedelic textures, pulsating and funk-warped beats, and a tantalizing blend of live performances and projector-mapped visuals, this motley array of sights and sounds was a journey through conscious music culture unlike any other.
On the opposite side of the festival grounds from the Quartz stage, the newly added Jade stage offered a consistent platter of fusion sounds that proved a welcome retreat from the main stage’s crowds and sounds. Though its lineup sometimes lacked the punch required to draw a proper audience, those who adventured into its wake were treated by ample space to spread out and get funky when the right note hit. Especially enjoyable was the hybrid electronic duo Modern Measure, whose crafty blend of organic instrumentation and synthetic sound proved irresistibly danceable as Tycho’s DJ set pulled crowds to the main stage the first night of the festival.
Full-bodied bass ran free and creative dancing flourished on the polished floors of the indoor Onyx stage, where one could easily lose oneself in the music and forget about the dusty festival outside. As in previous years, this intimate space seemed like the preferred rally point for friends to congregate, get a drink and throw down on the best dance surface of the festival. Running more like an underground dance party than a festival stage, the space provided a nearly constant flow of reliable beats from a range of artists including all-vinyl DJ Majitope, psychedelic experimentalist Templo, duo-turned-one-man-show Krooked Drivers, Arizona offspring Safi’s Lab and Tucson locals Jyshua Pcalyps, Corbin Dooley and E. Android.
For those willing to pay to party late, Gem & Jam offered an easy comedown from each night’s adventures via two sets of exclusive after parties. Shortly after the main stage shut down, Onyx transformed into “The Club at Gem & Jam” and boasted a heavy-hitting lineup that included Project Aspect, Exmag, and Marvel Years. Free drinks flowing until dawn ensured this was where the biggest partiers would remain.
For those willing to venture by car or cab, Gem and Jam offered a second after party each night at sibling creative spaces Solar Culture and The Galactic Center at the heart of downtown Tucson. Though a schedule print error caused many to miss DJ Treavor Moontribe on Friday, most nights’ lineups contained enough excitement to warrant the extra cost in exchange for wee-hour revelry in the intimate warmth of these gallery-venue hybrids.
Adding to the festival’s sonic offerings were the hypnotic movements of Tucson performance troupe Cirque Roots, urban dance collective The Sacred G’s, and numerous other traveling performance artists. With an abundance of belly dancers, fire artists, aerial silk specialists, stilt walkers and circus performers filling the festival grounds, there was seldom a gap in the scenery’s hypnotic movements during even the quietest moments of the weekend.
In the realm of psychedelic art, Gem & Jam has garnered a notable reputation in recent years for attracting the who’s who of visionary artists in what has become one of the most art-driven events in the festival circuit. Though Alex Grey—a figurehead in the visionary art realm and longtime supporter of Gem & Jam—was not in attendance this year, renowned artists from around the country still flocked to this year’s event.
With easels distributed all across the festival grounds, Gem & Jam’s talented artists offered spectators an endless stream of eye candy to feast upon. Among those in attendance were multimedia art guru Carey Thompson (who designed this year’s logo), skate-and-street art guerilla Chris Dyer, psychedelic impressionists The Welch Brothers, fractal-layering connoisseur Adam Psybe, Colorado’s APEX Collective, the esteemed Vajra, and a slew of other world-class painters and multimedia specialists flourishing in the festival circuit.
Seizing full advantage of the energy brought into Tucson during its annual gem show, Gem and Jam returned this year a more polished specimen than ever before and offered a fresh glimpse of what can happen when festival culture and civilization come together within the confines of a city. In the dust left from its footsteps, this unique festival has a greater foundation than ever before upon which to construct its next incarnation.
Though the path ahead will surely be filled with questions and uncertainties as the festival confronts its rising need for space and camper-friendly accommodations, this year’s event has shown a remarkable ability to adapt to an evolving and expanding festival scene on behalf of the organizers. If Gem & Jam’s rising popularity has revealed anything, it is that festivalgoers will travel wherever the great magnet dictates so long as the music, art and vibes are strong.
The functionality you are trying to use is for members only. Would you like to sign in?