Gem & Jam – You Are The Experience

*written by Lizzie Moore for Electronica Life
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Nestled in the heart of Tucson, AZ, Gem & Jam music and art festival celebrated its ninth annual year during the Tucson gem show.  The buzz had been alive for weeks prior to the festival, with attendees across the southwest becoming increasingly more excited as it drew near. With every passing landmark the suspense grew: the lineup came out and people were stoked, the after party schedule was posted and tickets disappeared fast, and soon enough all conversations somehow ended up being about Gem & Jam. This was my second year attending the gathering, but my first opportunity to stay the entire weekend and experience all three days.

The festival is on the smaller side but definitely has a magical way of never becoming repetitive. There are two stages at Gem & Jam on either end of the small venue, vendors lining the outside edges, and countless art installations and live creations happening throughout the middle. When entering at the front of the venue, you are instantly faced with the first of hundreds of live paintings happening within. Walking through Gem & Jam feels like reading one of those “choose your own adventure” books as you wander around deciding what to do next in awe of everything happening around you. A playground of sensatory pleasure, the festival grounds offer a breeding ground for creativity and connection.
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Typically going into a festival as an observer I have no idea what to expect and my experience ends up far surpassing my preconceptions.  I thought I knew what Gem & Jam was going to be like this year because I had attended before, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The first day of Gem & Jam was like reconnecting with a close friend that I hadn’t seen in a year. I walked around and noticed what vendors had been added and what artists would be painting over the course of the weekend. Boulder, CO, trio Sunsquabi started my night with a funky electronic vibe that put me in one of those moods where you feel on top of the world. Andreilien and Vibesquad kept the energy high and I ended my night splitting my time between a highly anticipated Papadosio performance and Pumpkin, one of my favorites. All too soon, the first night of Gem & Jam was over and I realized how much of a exhilarating and entertaining weekend I was in for.

Saturday night had the highest number of attendees and some of the largest performers of the weekend. Russ Liquid hit the crowd early followed by Thriftworks, Random Rab, Michael Menert Trio, and Emancipator Ensemble. I happily spent most of the night glued to the mainstage as each headliner took the stage, set the vibe, and infused the crowd with a unique tailored energy. I looked around and saw countless beautiful people enjoying themselves and sharing the space provided respectfully and enthusiastically. When I think about the second night of Gem & Jam I think about the love I witnessed. This truly was a place where you realized how much the person standing next to you meant to you. For me, it was a night I was able to experience a childlike happiness and allow myself to let down walls and feel emotions I hadn’t felt in a long time like forgiveness, selflessness, and a sense of empowerment.
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All of the sudden it was Sunday. I couldn’t believe that it was already the last day of the festival. I took this day to really pay attention to the small details and look at some of the art I had missed earlier in the weekend. I was in awe of how much talent surrounded me as I walked from booth to booth, artist to artist. It was my first time seeing both Kaminanda and Little People, followed by San Francisco native (and one of my new favorites) Giraffage, with The New Mastersounds’ impressive visuals paired with their big funk and jazz sound bringing the main stage to a close. Last but not least, we caught local favorite Spafford on the smaller stage. Spafford has been the soundtrack to some of my favorite memories, and I quickly got lost in their magical jam band trance. With the end of their set came the somber realization that Gem & Jam was over.

Gem & Jam truly moved me this year. It brought me to realizations about the strength of this community we have built through the connection of music and art. The beauty of Gem & Jam isn’t that it was something to be experienced; but rather that you and everyone around you make up the experience. At Gem & Jam you ARE the art, the people around you ARE the art, and every interaction or connection with another human IS the art. At Gem & Jam we are given a space to play, beginning a journey of self-expression and forming a beautiful synchronized process in which everything is accounted for and provided for one another. Everyone is equal and playing their part to create the overall experience. We are one large pulsating gathering of energy that translates as each person’s individual experience. You are a part of a whole, a significant piece of something that creates a uninhibited and unique space for those few hours.
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The most unique aspect of Gem & Jam is the community that it attracts and cultivates. Everyone who attends is present in the moment to love and spend time connecting with one another. Like Michael Menert said during his set, I felt empowered by the amount of energy circulating through the venue. I’ve never been to a festival that made me feel so comfortable and so at home. Everything about the weekend was a creation.  Everywhere I turned, people were making music, creating visuals, dancing, interacting with each other, loving each other. I can honestly say that this weekend was such a healing experience for me, I left feeling like I had opened parts of myself that had previously been suppressed.

For those of you that have never heard of Gem & Jam, I sincerely hope that it comes across your festival radar next year. You deserve it. You don’t simply attend Gem & Jam, you feel Gem & Jam in your soul.

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