Gem and Jam fest showcases art and music with Tucson community
The Party People play at the Gem and Jam Festival on Friday, Feb. 3. The Party People showcase a unique blend of old school hip-hop with a deep bass twist.
The 11th annual Gem and Jam Festival kicked off Thursday, Feb. 2, and wrapped up Sunday, Feb. 5, at the Pima County Fairgrounds.
The four-day festival featured over 50 live jam bands, electronic musical groups and DJs. Dozens of gem, art and food vendors, art galleries, live painters and visual artists were spread throughout this year’s spacious festival area. This was the first year the festival was held at the fairgrounds.
This year was Emma Cohen’s third visit to Gem and Jam. She said last year’s festival was on a smaller scale but still fun.
"I think the stage production was great; I think the art was really beautiful," Cohen said. "There is so much art, it’s incredible."
David Sheldon, festival partner for Gem and Jam, said previous years have seen about 5,000 attendees, and he expected at least that many this year.
"This place has so much more infrastructure and so much room to grow; it’s way better in pretty much every respect," Sheldon said.
This year’s location lent a welcoming atmosphere with car and walk-in camping, RV hookups, showers and bathrooms onsite and established stages. Last year’s workshops, late-night and pre-party events were held offsite, so attendees would have to drive or find a way back through town to get the full festival experience.
Festival partner Josh Pollack said another benefit of the fairgrounds location is the non-urban setting; everything is more centralized this year.
"Being able to bring people together like this is really an incredible feeling," Pollack said. "Creating this type of environment for people to really express themselves and be creative and be inspired and make connections."
Sheldon said even the sound was limited at last year’s venue at The Slaughterhouse, where they had to keep music between about 80 to 85 decibels.
"Here there’s no limit so we can crank it; it’s awesome," Sheldon said.
Music could be heard throughout the festival all night and each day, varying in intensity.
Performances ranged from The Floozies, G Jones and Gramatik to the "late night" DJs in the indoor stage area. Individual communities within tent groups also played music and held miniature dance parties.
Joshua Schultheis was one of many volunteers who offered trash and recycling services in exchange for a waived ticket price. He also helped organize lighting for various art installations around the festival with equipment he brought to Tucson from Flagstaff.
"I do visuals and lighting at other events," Schultheis said. "So I walked up to them and just asked them, and they were totally cool with me doing stuff for them."
A community atmosphere was a huge part of the festival. People dressed in all sorts of colorful clothing attended the festival. A man spinning fire or brightly colored poi balls could be seen entertaining groups of adults and children all dancing around the lights. Strangers introduced each other with hugs before asking names. Some men and women did yoga next to their canine friends. Every passerby had a glowing smile.
Brandon Hendrickson came to the festival for his first time this year with his significant other and their three children. He said the festival has been a really good example for himself and his children of how a community can be when everyone works together and unites. Hendrickson said his children have really loved it and it gave them a chance to blossom and express themselves.
"To inspire them is the most eternal thing we can do," Hendrickson said. "To give our generations, as they come, something to hold on to."
Pollack said Gem and Jam is still on a smaller, intimate level of overall festivals.
"It’s still got that community feel where you see the same people year after year," Pollack said. "It’s kind of like a family reunion type vibe, so it makes it all worth the work and months of planning, being able to experience that first-hand."
Jon Imeson was a live artist during Friday night’s late-night event with the Desert Hearts Showcase. He also had his art up in galleries during the festival. Imeson said he tries to practice automatism in his work, which is basically having no subject while you are creating the art.
"[Gem and Jam] is really one of my favorite festivals. Having the music and the art and the installations and the workshops here, it’s really like all you could ask for in a festival," Imeson said. "It’s really one of the most prominent in the U.S."
Sheldon said he likes seeing people develop year after year during the festival.
"A basic painter three years ago, you might see them taking off to a different level at this point," Sheldon said.
The Gem and Jam Festival is frequented by people who came from the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase to see Tucson’s other attractions. The showcase attracts people of all nationalities to visit Tucson and observe, learn about, buy and sell interesting gems and minerals.
Christian Johnson walked into the festival Friday night with a ukulele and his backpack. This was Johnson’s first time at Gem & Jam, and he said he is infinitely in love with jam music.
"I wasn’t really coming with expectations except to camp, see great music and meet great people," Johnson said. "I know without a doubt, that I’ll find great music, a great camping spot and lovely people to hang out with."
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