On Feb 3, I got the chance to experience the wild ride that was Gem & Jam. Despite having heard of the festival’s occurrence in years past, since I grew up in Tucson, I never got the chance to see if for myself.
The day started with an interview with co-headliner Spafford. I got held up at the box office and sprinted through mud to the media tent, five minutes late. Luckily, the band was kind enough to return for the last 10 minutes of my time slot. They greeted me with a handshake and a smile, explained aspects of their creative process, and recounted memorable venues they’d performed in. Afterwards, before the media kick-off, I took the chance to explore the explore the festival grounds and see what the various venues had to offer. I visited the “A Box of Rain” installation in a vibrantly decorated yurt and explored the tents on the grassy lawn.
Back at the tent for the media kick-off, the festival's PR team recapped the history of Gem & Jam and how far it had come, and encouraged us to enjoy the festival! The media tent was stocked with snacks and water, and was next to the cozy VIP lounge, which had blanket-covered couches, snacks, and a pinball machine.
Finished with the kick-off, I wandered over to the artfully designed Quartz stage where Lost Ox was performing. The funky guitar and mellow vibes relaxed me, and I sat and enjoyed their music in one of the many ornate covered benches. My next stop was the vendor booths, looking at the hand-dyed garments and entrancing laser-engraved artworks available. The vendors seemed to capture the fashion
at Gem & Jam, adding to the fun vibe at the festival.
In the Onyx stage, I marveled at the art and flow artists inside the building. The air had an electric buzz, and rhythm pulsed through the floor. Near the west entrance, there were installations set up: a cushioned spinning seat, a couch covered in neon stuffed animals, a spinning Uno table surrounded with cushions under a geometric structure, a screen that mirrored the viewers movements with a psychedelic filter, and futuristic statues. I enjoyed Chmura’s set and chatted with other festivalgoers.
My highlight of the night was Maddy O’Neal at the Emerald Stage. Filled with throwback hits like paper planes by MIA, I lost myself in her set.
The atmosphere was judgement-free and laid-back;
despite the huge crowd, there was enough room to dance and talk with others. The community felt welcoming, with a sense of shared love of the music that encapsulated the festival’s energy.
It was my first time at a festival like this, and my expectations were blown away. I left with a new appreciation of Gem & Jam’s culture, community, and art, and with unforgettable memories.