13th Annual Gem and Jam Festival Review

The Gem and Jam Festival was the ultimate culmination of art, music, and colorful culture mixed in one giant kaleidoscope of fun. The people, the atmosphere, the music, the vendors, the venue, everything about this event was what I wanted out of this weekend music festival in the desert.

Images by Aidan Moncrief for KAMP Student Radio.

Saturday, after driving 38 minutes out into the desert, Aidan and I found the Pima County Fairgrounds out in the sprawling plains between Tucson and Vail. When we arrived we were greeted by very pleasant staff at the box office and friendly security. As we entered into the festival, the smell of the food vendors immediately knocked us off our feet. There was an array of different types of sustainable food trucks from all different cultures right at the doorstep. We tried Dump City Dumplings and a Taco eatery and both were fantastic (I recommend the Pork Chili Dumplings!). Compared to other festivals I’ve attended, the food was well priced and delicious which does not always happen!

As we continued to trek deeper into the grounds, many different vendors were selling gems and handmade jewelry as well as different leather and wellness products. My favorite vendors personally were the gem shops because I love rocks/minerals and there were plenty to visit on the way to the stages. At the center of the grounds was a large pavilion host to at least 35+ artists painting and creating in their designated workshops. This was one of my favorite aspects of Gem and Jam because I had never been to a festival where so many different types of artists were working and inspiring the attendees. While having four stages of music, several live dance/acrobatic performances, the large artist pavilion, and more going on simultaneously, the festival executed all features very well at the event. For this review, I want to congratulate the event designers/planners because everything was easy to navigate, engaging, and not too overwhelming.

Image by Aidan Moncrief

Image by Aidan Moncrief for KAMP Student Radio.

After walking through the open pavilion, we exited and gazed upon the main stage which was decorated and hosted an awesome set up with fun graphics animations playing. My favorite band of the day was the Eminence Ensemble band. The energy and musicianship of the group were off the charts and I appreciate when artists engage and ask questions to the audience actively. Although each set was about an hour for each artist, I was left wanting more as everyone’s music was so engaging and energetic. I remember looking at the time and seeing 7 PM and glancing again after dancing for a while for it to be 7:50 PM!

As the night went on, Aidan and I saw other stages in the site such as the Opal stage that had dancers and DJs performing simultaneously with a large crowd gathered around. The Opal stage was my favorite from a design point of view because of the crystals and the well-raised platform the stage rested upon. Due to its height, everyone had a great view of the artists and were able to enjoy the theatrics on stage as well as the people around them.

Images by Aidan Moncrief for KAMP Student Radio.

Another well constructed stage was the indoor stage where several EDM Djs were mixing and playing their sets. The most notable of these DJs on Saturday was DJ SoDown who broke out his saxophone and played it over his mix! I thought the craftsmanship of his beats and everyone going crazy when he played the saxophone was priceless showmanship. This stage was also well done because there were many lights and gem themed decorations around but nothing ever seemed over the top or gaudy. The event planners were very conscious of not overstimulating the senses and I appreciated the aesthetics.

Gem and Jam needs to be put on your radar for next year because it is an event unlike any other in Arizona. A festival that can attract all ages and have as many people dancing for as many hours as I saw was an amazing sight to see. Even if you are not a fan of reggae or jazz or EDM or any other type of genre of music that isn’t pop, you will like this festival. When I say there were only good vibes in the air, there were ONLY good vibes in the air. Not one person I met or talked to was in a bad mood, had a bad attitude, or were rude in any way. I appreciate events that seem personal to the planners, they made this event their own and put in the time and effort to make everyone have a fun-filled weekend.

Last, a very gracious thank you to Chad from CWPR for allowing KAMP Student Radio to cover Gem and Jam 2020.

Following this review, I will be posting interviews with several artists from Gem and Jam so stay tuned and come back for more!

Images by Aidan Moncrief for KAMP Student Radio.

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