Wherever the music leads, you follow. Especially if that music leads you deep into the breathtaking Tucson desert during the largest, inarguably most intriguing, gem and mineral show. “Real” life seems to be a distant memory, now irrelevant to the present moment as we entered the Pima County Fairgrounds for Gem and Jam Music Festival.
Blossoming from the well-established roots of the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase, Gem and Jam is an incredibly special gathering of all kinds of people, from all walks of life, to join together in celebration of Mother Nature’s creations, but most of all, to dance together under the starry desert sky. Artists, vendors, and creators of everything imaginable, from far and wide, welcomed us with open arms, offering fresh perspectives on everything from tacos to hand-carved, intimately dyed, custom-made leather pocket belts. They simply wanted to share their creations and talents with us, like-minded individuals. These vendors sought out smiles and friendships rather than sales and profits. Passion was an ever-present theme throughout the weekend, from the gem connoisseurs to the fire spinners and painters, watching art come to fruition in front of your very own eyes is truly inspiring.
Outstanding musicians, from Bluegrass lifers to break-out beat-makers, astounded our senses. The Russ Liquid Test made staying up until the early hours so worth it, as Russ Liquid and his ensemble wowed us with their elemental, jazz-infused energetic tracks. Another force not for the faint of heart, Dynohunter brought the heat on opening night. Things got even crispier when Zoogma AND Dynohunter took the stage together, setting the bar almost too high for the rest of the weekend.
The next day, Lettuce left us awestruck visually, emotionally, and physically. We crawled back to our campsite to charge up for their legendary second set the following night. Our group still remains divided on which of their sets blew our minds the most. Sodown’s in-your-face bass seduced everyone, luring us all out of our campsites to get sweaty and heady.
Even the many dogs in attendance felt the funk after that set! No matter the stage, nor the day, we felt beyond satisfied wherever the music guided us. Something about this festival made us feel as if every moment was the moment. Phones, videos, and pictures were mere afterthoughts, because, at Gem and Jam, we lived in those moments, and embraced them to the fullest.
Reflecting on the experiences and memories of the weekend, something that stood out as the most prevalent, was the people.
Oh, the people.
At our arrival, the friendly gatekeeper knowingly directed us to our home for the weekend, while also insisting on spoon feeding everyone in our group “just a taste!” of her personal helping of curry from a vendor inside. Our neighbors (some really unique characters) became closer than friends we had known for years.
We knew Gem and Jam would be about so much more than just getting our groove on. But how much more exactly? Strangers borrowed gum directly out of each other’s mouths, we traded hugs for showers and exchanged jokes for beers. The humans (and cats and dogs) were as diverse as the tunes. And they cared so much about everything! We witnessed people plucking discarded cigarette butts off of the ground on multiple occasions, and every day when we reentered the festival, attendees had left it as clean as the day prior. We drove home complete, yet aching for the beautiful souls we would never have met in “real” life. Hopefully, we will all be home again together, jamming under that gorgeous Tucson desert sky next year.
Gem and Jam left our hearts filled with a sense of magic that we could never have even imagined existing prior to this experience. No words we can ever possibly conjure together can truly shine enough light on the massive, loving community, the energy, the dancing, and the passion for the gathering that is Gem and Jam. The music led our souls to this magical place. And wherever the music leads, you follow.
See you next year for sure!