Cutting our way from southern Colorado, we descended the gorgeous canyons near the Salt River onto the Sonoran Desert.
As the landscape started filling in with Saguaros, the antiquarian masters of the desert, we knew we were finally entering a new exciting world, the land of transformational festivals, where mystery, beauty and art are explored with open minds from around the world.
The Gem & Jam Festival is the musical and artistic complement to Tuscon’s Gem & Mineral Shows, the world’s largest collection of gorgeous raw and cut stones.
These days I’m disenfranchised with the massively popular, super-corporate festivals, but Gem & Jam’s venue The Slaughterhouse was the right size for all the visionary art and music I could handle. As a former meat-packing plant that usually hosts haunted houses, It’s kind of an eerie place, but the indoor and outdoor stages set the right vibe for transformational fun.
Gem & Jam is a wook-fest. If you’re like me and cringe at the sight of candy kids at raves, or barely stop yourself from fighting douchers at EDM shows, check out the brighter side of “the wookening.” Wooks are hairy creatures from strange and different planets. Their lifestyle doesn’t fit any other that I’ve discovered yet. They dress like trendy hobos, eat more psychoactives than food, and generally go to the land of no control. I’m no wook, but I’m more at home with the happy, reckless wook-style than the other wacky electronic scenes.
Highlights from the first night included Desert Dwellers, and Paul Basic and Supervision from the Pretty Lights Label. Supervision threw down some killer scratching, something I hadn’t seen at past shows and something he really needs to do more often.
The first night’s standout was Colorado’s own renowned funk band, The Motet, who gave a proper shout-out to themselves as the only live band at a festival without many of ‘em. Thank God for the funk.
The second night was highlighted by Russ Liquid, a surprisingly versatile trumpet player who knows how to rock a show. Thriftworks produces a unique blend of trippy-ass sounds that eventually made us feel like we were leaving our bodies for another dimension. An interesting experience but I’d rather be on earth to feel the full festi-experience.
Not everyone agrees with me though. This girl literally blasted off into the next dimension on a DMT trip right underneath the stage. After 20 minutes or so she came back and seemed alright, but she was without her friends. This shows the importance of taking care of your friends at these events.
Elliot Lipp is one of my favorite producers, and he also played a great set during the second night that featured a lot of his greatest hits. His DJ skills are supreme, pulling little pieces from his songs that pan into the full song some of the time, but other times don’t and leave me tingling and wantin’ more.
Alex Grey’s visionary psychedelic art has captured the attention of people from around the world, and I was pleased to see his blissed-out demeanor while he painted with his wife Allyson and the musicians by his side. He humbly meets and greets his many fans, signing autographs and engaging in conversation with anyone who approaches him. Listening to him speak about the growing “love tribe” brought a serene lucidity to everybody there:
The indoor stage filled to the brim for Bluetech, whose melodic, flowing rhythms kept us dancing hard well past midnight. Mimosa closed out the night and unfortunately he only played one of his decent older songs. As we made our swift escape, we knew we made the right choice ‘cause the new “music” felt like it was ripping at the core of my very being.
The third night finally arrived and we couldn’t believe the festival was about to come to a close. Really upset at missing Lynx’s set, Govinda opened our night with some of that tasty bass we live for. Love & Light took it easy by holding back on the womps from the days-of-dubstep-old. Despite a generally choppy flow, they played a surprisingly fun and exciting set.
Random Rab, the king of happy, good times, played with his friend Cedar on the drums. Rab’s known for setting legendary good vibes, and he sure didn’t disappoint at Gem & Jam this year. If you haven’t seen Rab yet, especially one of his famous sunrise sets, my advice to you is do it!
BoomBox brought their 70’s porno style that seems to travel with ‘em everywhere they go. Their sexy grooves are guaranteed to light up the night, unless they’re shut down in the middle of a song, which is exactly what happened. I guess Tucson has some strict laws on this stuff, but this was the weakest, most unceremonious ending to a festival I’ve ever seen.
I’m continuously impressed with the on-stage performers who dance, twirl fire and paint alongside the festival’s musical artists. Even random people hooping in the crowds are fun to watch. Regardless how people contribute to transformational festivals, it’s following through on our intentions to bring joy, healing, inspiration, fulfillment and peace into the world that makes a difference. This is our generation’s chance to leave our mark.
The need to expand our collective horizons beyond the material world of money and basic needs has become painfully obvious. It’s time to reconnect with our higher, visionary core and rekindle our uniquely human drive for creativity and souls’ connections. Transformational festivals such as Gem & Jam foster a space to collectivize our creative efforts. The community artistic awakening that’s been blowing up around the world over the last several years is the kind of energy we should cherish to leave a brighter world for our grandkids, and I’m gonna keep participating in it any way I can.