You don’t have to wait until the spring or summer to hop back on the music festival train in 2022 – and considering all the lost time from the last two years, why not start making up for it early this season with the festival jewel of the Southwest? Taking place February 4-6 in Tuscon, AZ, Gem & Jam eases festivalgoers back into the scene with an art-heavy, gem-stoned party – while also calling forth the headiest hippies for the Desert Winter Wook Olympics.
The lineup balances an array of electro-funk and wavy jam bands with a hunky-dory helping of groovy tech house, wonky wubs and psychedelic fusion, headlined this year by STS9, Liquid Stranger, SHPONGLE (Simon Posford Live Set), Claude VonStroke and Lotus. The music satisfies with fulfilling frequencies under the desert sky, but the other elements of the festival elevate this diamond in the rough to a higher vibration.
A Kaleidoscopic Conglomeration of Crystals
Gem & Jam mixes into the mystique of the Tuscon Gem and Mineral Show (the largest of its kind in the world), which officially happens the weekend after the fest, though hundreds of gem shows and exhibitions take over Tuscon from January 18-February 18. It’s an astounding sight to see if you have extra time to explore the city – but if not, the vendors and showcases inside the fest will still crystallize the gleam in your eyes with their dazzling displays, alongside the gemstone-named stages and crystal-themed art installations/aesthetic everywhere. And while Wooks trying to sell their rocks off to passersby can quickly get obnoxious in other settings, that’s part of the fun here as you walk through the campgrounds.
Art Gallery Appreciation and Live Painters Galore
If you like to hang back from the crowd sometimes to get lost in vivid and trippy paintings while still hearing the music clearly, Gem & Jam cultivates the best environment for that I’ve experienced at a festival. Under a pavilion at the back of the main stage, a jaw-dropping art gallery hosts tons of extraordinary live painters along the edges and high-profile pieces that get auctioned off Sunday lining the walkways within. I spent over an hour each day immersing myself in the visual splendor of this spot last time, and the surreal art to the left of the audience consistently hypnotized me whenever I’d step to the side for a break.
Artist vending booths and captivating installations draw attendees in at the smaller stages as well, providing something wondrous to marvel at anytime you desire additional stimulation or somewhere to relax. Many live painters set up along the wall of the indoor stage too (particularly the final night) once it gets chillier and the outdoor stages close down. Some of the best electronic music happens at these late-night sets, and whether in the gallery or at another stage, browsing all the painters mid-craft leaves you awe-inspired.
Desert Style, Winter Wardrobe, Smaller Size
There’s something mystifying about desert environments that transport you outside of everyday society. Those boundaries stretch even further from reality for a festival at this ideal medium-small size in the surreal mixed locale of the Pima County Fairgrounds. Colorful clothing and art stand out with renewed vibrance amidst sepia-toned delirium. The sun radiates enough warmth upon the winter days while the nights descend into notably cold temperatures, so you can dress light and breezier at first then bust out those stylish fuzzy jackets, onesies, heavier layers and costumes that would be too hot for summer fests. You’ll never look doper in your fur coat than when you wear it to party in the desert.
Wonderful and Otherworldly Workshops
The myriad of workshops available at Gem & Jam offer fun, fascinating and meditative experiences that can enrich your body, expand your mind, open your heart and feed your soul. Flow workshops can range from various styles of yoga (including acro yoga) to buugeng and even learning slinky tricks. My favorite workshop I attended in 2020 ran through how all the different astrological planetary periods each impact a person’s development and trajectory, from infancy to old age, literally outlining the universal, contextual framework for a whole lifetime – in one massively enlightening hour. There’s also the Drumming Sounds area, which hosts some mystical, energetic and self-reflective workshops as well as soothing drum circles.
After fees, tickets start at $246 for a GA pass, $465 for a VIP pass, $71 for early arrival, and $188 for a car camping pass (though normal camping is free and parking your car in the lot is only $20 for the weekend). See you next month to kick off festival season!