Gem & Jam Was a Friendly and Fulfilling Festival in Arizona

Gem & Jam Festival celebrated its 15th year in 2023 in Tucson, Arizona, and the event was a memorable camping festival with a tight-knit, family-like feeling.

Gem & Jam is one of the longest-standing festivals in Arizona. Celebrating its 15th year in 2023, it was an incredibly unique weekend of music, vibes, vendors, workshops, mountains, and more in the desert outside Tucson.

Taking place from February 3-5, 2023, Gem & Jam hosts a lineup of both jam bands and DJs as well as a full workshop schedule offering a variety of experiences. It’s a smaller, more intimate festival, and the lineups are only half of the fun. The vibes and the crowd interactions are a huge part of an event like Gem & Jam, and it exceeded expectations in nearly all aspects.

Held at the Pima County Fairgrounds on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, the Gem & Jam venue welcomed an eclectic mix of individuals with open arms. It was a unique jam band, camping festival experience, and we can’t wait to go back again for more.

The Environment

Gem & Jam Music & Arts Festival is held in Arizona in an area surrounded by mountains. The camping areas are situated on a flat plain where tents, RVs, cars, and buses create a small community. There’s beauty in something that is smaller. It allows for more focus. It allows for intimacy and comradery that is not typically achieved at a larger scale.

The community also has vendors inside the venue that sell a wide collection of unique art, jewelry, clothing, and other interesting pieces not found anywhere else. There was a strong sense of passion and creativity that surrounded every individual here. Whether they were selling items they had made, teaching classes, DJing and performing, or exploring the grounds, everyone had an aura of excitement that was infectious and inspiring.

Seeing the sun rise and set over the mountains with a small encampment of passionate festivalgoers from across the country was a great reminder of the simplicity and beauty that we tend to forget in the chaos of our busy lives. It was truly an escape. 

The Stages

While none of the stages were massive, each had perfect sound and were styled slightly different to create a memorable experience in each setting.

The Opal Stage was the smallest and had many of the local artists and smaller DJs just getting their start. It’s situated so that you pass it often on your way between sets, and we found ourselves there often without planning to be, enjoying artists we had never previously heard of.

The Onyx Stage was inside a hangar that had areas to sit down (including a couch made out of stuffed animals) as well as easy access to the rail. This stage was equipped with impressive lasers that would sweep across the entire ceiling, hitting the back wall and illuminating the crowd. The Onyx Stage where many of the bass artists and late night acts performed.

The Quartz Stage was off to the side with an impressive decor that lit up at night. This was also the area where many day time activities were held. Lastly, the Emerald Stage was the largest stage and had the headline acts. Complete with a deceivingly immersive visual effects setup, the stage would truly transform depending on who was in command of it.

The Music

Our overall favorites: LSDream & Ott

LSDream, in his Saturday night headlining set, brought Clozee out to debut their two brand new songs. The visual effects were incredible. The remixes were seamless and fresh, such as “Rumble” by Skrillex, “We Like to Party” by Vengaboys, “Operator” by G Jones,. He also performed a Lightcode “Soundbath” on Saturday afternoon which gave attendees a period of introspection and meditation complete with breath exercises and trasnformative music. LSDream proved that he can wear many hats, but all are infused with stellar sound design and mixing.

Ott took us on a journey of sound that was difficult to even describe. The sound design defined genre and could only be compared to how people must have felt when hearing Daft Punk for the first time. Creating unique melodies out of sound effects that would somehow flow in unexpected directions, Ott proved that he is a spectacle well worth attending.

Most creative sets: Jason Leech & Cable Management

Jason Leech created a unique blend of vocals, keyboard riffs, and dubstep that was beautiful and captivating. The set almost felt improvised yet maintained a polish of someone who knew exactly what they were doing. He was able to use multiple keyboards to create exciting scales of melody as well as remixes and live edits that took many turns and shifts to keep the crowd engaged from beginning to end.

Cable Management was a local project that felt like a more modern version of a jam band. Soundscrybe and Twyatt Earp would take turns on the DJ decks while Monty provided vocals, guitar, and even rap verses along with the music. There was not only a feeling of improv and unspoken communication between members that is signature to a jam band, but they were also infusing DJ mixing with live vocals and instruments. This was an act I made note of keeping an eye out for in the future.

Most Surprising Set: Defunk & Seppi

Defunk explored all different kinds of bass music in his set, and the mastery and energy that was maintained across multiple genres was surprising and engaging. He gained the crowd energy and took everyone on a journey through both heavy and funky styles they may not normally have set out to see, and he showed us why each genre can bring a unique and exciting audience experience.

Seppi was dressed in a memorable pink fur hat with large sunglasses and brought a very unique vocal drum n bass set that had the crowd completely engaged. Drum and Bass has slowly been gaining more traction throughout America, and the set even included famous songs remixed to drum n bass. It was a set that became impossible to leave, as the audience truly was excited to see what came next.

Whether we were enjoying a cup of coffee shared between camp neighbors, shopping for unique keepsakes, trying our hand at Acro Yoga, or jamming out to bands new and old, we were always having an exciting and memorable time at Gem & Jam Festival.

It was well run, and it was big enough to be engaging yet small enough to be intimate and easy to navigate. It brought together a kaleidoscope of creatives who inspired one another to go beyond their comfort zones. Gem & Jam is the perfect oasis of warmth (both temperature and cultural-wise) in the middle of winter where you feel like you’ve both escaped and arrived at the same time.

Story: dan_shaded & michael_premier (intro)

Photos: Greg Bollinger, Silky Shots, John Verwey

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