The 12th annual Gem and Jam Festival provided a desert oasis retreat at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Arizona. The campsites were perfectly set-up, with only a short walk to the entrance. Attendees who chose walk-in campers were closest to the luscious grass. Car campers were just a bit further away on gravel which allowed tents and canopies to be staked down. Food vendors were generously placed inside and outside the venue, serving up a variety of vegan, gluten-free and conventional food options. Inside the festival grounds was an explosion of art and vendors. The immense variety in art makes this one of the most colorful and creative events Arizona hosts each year.
The Emerald Stage was surrounded by live painters who provided attendees an eyeful of visual stimulation and a chance to buy some prints. The stage itself was encrusted with gemstones which reflected and glistened with the floodlights. Better yet, the stage faced westward allowing the gorgeous desert sunset to become part of the visual display. It was here at the Emerald Stage that Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) and Emancipator dazzled festival goers with groovy jams and elegant rifts.
We were blessed with two nights of STS9, who blew us away with their funky vibes and amazing stage presence. This was our first time seeing STS9 perform and after the first night, we knew that they were the must-see act of the second night. The groups flow, the energy of the crowd and the fact that the instrumentals were all live had us totally digging their vibes. It is no wonder STS9 is considered to be a champion of livetronica. We thoroughly enjoyed their ability to mix elements of funk, jazz, psychedelia, and hip-hop into the perfect groove.
Our favorite act of the entire festival was Emancipator, who took us on a journey through an expanding soundscape. The harmony ascended our mind, body, and soul, taking it soaring into a melodic atmosphere of trip-hop, ambient, and chill-out music. Once again, Emancipator blew us away with their ability to make downtempo music energetic. The bass riffs, flutters of flute, and backing of drums brought forth feelings of warmth, wellness and an overall love for those around us. What really set Emancipator apart is the incorporation of a violin which added an elegance to their sound on the level of champagne and caviar.
The quartz stage offered cozy relaxed vibes that invited people to lay on the grass, eat some food, and perhaps gaze at some artwork. On Sunday, Tony inorbit played some groovy house music. In addition to people boogying down, people also jammed out in hammocks, and struck some yoga poses. Located right next to the stage was the art dome that displayed jaw-dropping, complex artwork which we swear brought you straight into another dimension. The art dome also featured a tea table which served up hot tea all night long. It was here that we bonded with new friends, and tried a magnitude of teas warming up on a brisk winter’s night.
The nights were admittedly a little bit cold, but the night owls were in luck. The late-night Onyx Stage was in a warm cozy barn. Here Russ Liquid assembled the sounds of psychedelic jazz beaming it into the crowd, who absorbed it like a ray of sunshine. People vibed out in a mellow dance, while others relaxed on the floor. It was comforting to have a place to warm up and kick back after a long night of grooving and moving. Although my brave courageous soul couldn’t keep my eyes open, the vibes carried on long into the night until the music finally stopped at 4:30 AM.
Review by John Miller and Brandon Lopez