Gem and Jam Festival 2020 Review
Gem and Jam Festival 2020
Gem and Jam Festival is a pairing of music and art, featuring visual performers, live artists, arts and crafts along with workshops and lectures, food vendors and high-end art galleries. The 13th Annual Gem and Jam Festival took place in Tuscon, AZ, January 31st – February 2nd, 2020.
Words and Images By Maddie Interdonato
Anyone who saw me trudging through the crunchy snow and ice last Friday at 3am may have wondered why my footwear of choice was socks and Birkenstocks. Because I was headed off to Arizona, of course! Alas, no one else was actually awake to judge my life choices. After packing my Jeep almost to the ceiling, I was off to Arizona for my solo trip to Gem and Jam Music Festival.
Gem and Jam Festival: Day 1
This Colorado winter has been exceptionally tough for me, so the idea of escaping to sunny Arizona, if even for a few days, was a dream. As I drove south, I eagerly awaited the sunrise that would welcome me into the desert. The majority of the drive took me through New Mexico, which I didn’t mind much because of how beautiful the landscapes are. I continuously checked the temperature on my dashboard and smiled as they slowly raised from -3 to 60 once I hit the Arizona border.
The closer I got to the festival, the more foreign the flora became. There were families of stout Joshua Trees, Yucca plants with strange stems sticking out of them that were taller than me, and giant bushes of cactuses the length of a car. I finally made it to my camping spot, which hilariously was in the row farthest from the festival entrance, not row Z, but the one after that didn’t warrant its own letter.
As I set up my camp, I made sure to meet my neighbors for the weekend. Since I was solo, this was an important step. It turns out, the folks to my left were from Pagosa Springs, a neighboring town from me up in Colorado, and the person to my right was also festing on their own. It was around 4pm when I was ready to head into the festival.
The energy was high. On my walk past each row of campsites (26 to be exact), I admired the small cities that people had created. You could get the sense that the crowd at Gem and Jam were well seasoned festival goers. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I made it to the festival entrance, despite being in row -Z.
My first step once entering Gem and Jam was to obtain some grub – you know, so I could check out the meal vendors. Apparently eating nothing but Chewy bars for a 10 hour drive leaves you craving something more. I stopped by Super Heady Tacos to see what the hype was all about. This taco stand makes their way to many different festivals across the country and they have definitely made a reputation for themselves.
I made note of several other vendors that I would need to check out before the weekends end – definitely the Indian food – and continued my tour of the festival grounds. The entry way was lined with food vendors, which turned into regular vendors, which turned into artists’ booths, before finally reaching the main stage. Behind the mainstage was one of the most colorful sunsets I had ever seen in Arizona, with the distant mountains adding a layer of beauty to it.
Quickly I was immersed in the magic of Gem and Jam. For such a small festival, they took such time ensuring that everywhere you wandered, you’d be surrounded by beautiful art and music. No matter where you went, you could hear music coming from one of the four stages. In between the stages, vendors were blasting their own jams, leaving no room for your own thoughts while on the festival grounds. There were even people hanging out by the Third Eye Pinecones booth because their music was so “off the chain” as the young people say.
Once the sun set, the temperature dropped rapidly. I actually had to run back to my campsite to grab some extra layers before the first show at the main stage began, Cofresi. It was quickly established that the cure for the cold was to Jam, or to take shelter in the Onyx stage, which was indoors.
Because of the 10 hour drive, my tiredness convinced me to go back to camp to sleep before the main act of the evening, TIPPER. Little did I know, I would have the honor of hearing their entire set from my sleeping bag.
Gem and Jam Festival: Day 2
I was brought out of my slumber on Saturday morning around 7 am by some drag racers doing laps on the race track that was conveniently located on the other side of the trees from my campsite in row -Z. I ended up not getting much sleep, as these seasoned festival goers had a super power – they could stay up all night! Note to self: bring earplugs to the next festival.
Upon leaving my tent, I discovered that the neighbor on the right, my fellow soloist, couldn’t handle Gem and Jam much longer and left as soon as the sun came up, leaving a large space next to me, that my neighbors and I would later take advantage of throughout the weekend.
After a delicious breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes and raspberries, I geared up to head in to the festival. The sun was out and felt wonderful on my skin, a reminder of why I left Colorful Colorado in the first place.
I headed to the Quartz Stage which was the designated chill spot for the afternoon. Colorful banners were tied above the stage, casting shade for those who were there eating lunch, playing with their flow toys, or napping. Balkan Beats played an awesome set which ended with some Jazzercise (I’m not even kidding), followed by Ana Sia who got everyone up and moving.
Gem and Jam is a small festival, and quickly I began recognizing faces and making friends. At the Emerald Stage during Eminence Ensemble, I bonded with two ladies after they kept an eye on my camera gear while I ran to the restroom. We hooped together during the set, and throughout the rest of the weekend I kept running into one or the other, never both of them at the same time, though.
My Saturday was almost completely shaped by the people that I met.
I would meet someone and they’d invite me to come with them to the next show, and I would always oblige. I am not super knowledgeable in this scene of music, so having people show me the ropes was extremely helpful. The moment I would part ways with one group, I would meet another in the line to grab a beer, and just like that would be whisked off to another area of the festival, being introduced to more people.
If I needed to describe the attendees and overall vibe of Gem and Jam in one word, it would be “open.” A gentle way of saying the festival was kind of a free-for-all, which seemed to be one of the big draws, aside from the amazing music, art, and location.
Big Gigantic took the main stage next and debuted some never-before-heard music that would be released in their new album on February 28th.
Both bands had the crowds moving non-stop with the funky beats featuring live instruments and even a saxophone – my favorite!
Gem and Jam Festival: Day 3
I spent most of the morning in front of the Opal Stage, climbing around on the geodesic dome or dancing to house music. There was plenty of shade to be found in this spot that was surrounded by palm trees. Since it was my final day, I made sure to explore every piece of the festival to make sure I didn’t miss a single thing, which could be done thoroughly in around 3 hours.
Unlike some other festivals, each vendor and artist were completely unique in the product they displayed. Everything was a work of art.
My favorite part of the festival was the emphasis on art. Underneath a large pavilion in front of the main stage was a space completely designated to live artists. At any moment on any day, you could walk through and watch as people painted large canvases, or created clay sculptures. It was quite a sight to see.
For dinner, I found myself once again at the Indian food stand ordering Chicken Tikka Masala. This festival had extremely long and tiresome days, so I had to gain some energy somehow. I knew that Twiddle would be my final show of the weekend, as I had a long drive ahead of me Monday morning.
The festival was mainly electronic music, with a minority of jam bands, despite the name. Twiddle successfully lived up to the festival’s name and blew everyone in the crowd away with their positive, upbeat tunes.
With a smile on my face, I made my way back to camp, knowing that I probably wouldn’t get much sleep, but pretty okay with it.
Gem and Jam Festival: Final Thoughts
I decided to attend Gem and Jam not knowing much about the festival. Sometimes attending a festival solo can be tough, however, the people and festival itself were so welcoming that I immediately felt at home. Everyone was there to have a good time, from start to finish. Each morning I woke up sleepy, yet excited to see what was in store.
The culture of Gem and Jam is the most unique that I have experienced.
There is a culture of giving that I encountered nonstop from many different people. I let my neighbors have 2 eggs at breakfast, and in return received not one, but two beers. At one point someone threw an Air Head at me – not sure why, but I appreciated it greatly. There was even a cardboard box labeled “take what you need, leave what you don’t” in the campground where passerbys dropped off cans of soup, hand warmers, and more.
It felt as though this festival brought together people who wanted to be their best selves for a weekend – and it showed.
Gem and Jam is truly a Gem.
Maddie Interdonato is a photographer, videographer and music lover based in southern Colorado. Her work can be found at www.maiphotoandvideo.com
For more of Maddie’s Gem and Jam images, visit the Full Gem and Jam Gallery.
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