Tucson’s Gem & Jam fest is back with music, workshops and more

One of the country’s most famous jam bands will headline a roster of more than 60 artists at the 15th annual Gem & Jam Festival February 3-5.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, The String Cheese Incident will play two sets on Sunday February 5th, the final day of the music and arts festival which will include daily workshops covering everything from the healing powers of crystal and tea to family yoga. drumming and meditation.

The festival also has a number of events for children on its aptly named Starseed Rainbow Family Circus Stage, where children can join a dance party, paint and see the Riley Rainbow Family Circus Show.

“There’s something for everyone,” said festival coordinator and founder Toby White, who started the event in 2005 as a gem show afterparty and has seen it grow into a three-day event at the Pima County Fairgrounds that included camping and four stages, several Art galleries and dozens of vendors selling clothing, crafts and of course gems.

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Around 15 food trucks will also set up their mobile kitchens on site.

The festival was never really connected to the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, which runs through February 12, though it’s kind of clung to the gem show’s coattails.

“When this started we were a lot smaller, so integration with the gemstone exhibition was very important,” White said, adding that the festival has grown so big that it’s no longer an issue. “Some people think we’re the gem fair.”

White, who graduated from Northern Arizona University’s hospitality program, started the festival as a one-day event in 2005 after a friend who was involved with the gem exhibition complained that there wasn’t much to do after closing time.

The idea was to bring together high-energy jam bands that would turn a concert into a party. In its early years, as the festival made its way to larger and larger venues and grew from a single day to three days, the lineup grew to include local and national new age, electronica, folk and rock artists who would appeal to a wide audience. The festival’s target audience, White said, is in their 20s to early 30s, although the festival has added events and attractions that appeal to families and the elderly.

“Typically, no matter what, we try to have someone who’s a jam band act that fits our vision,” said White, who lives in Bend, Oregon.

Gem & Jam went on a two-year hiatus in 2011 and 12 as the economy took a dramatic downturn and the 2021 event was canceled due to the pandemic, which was in its infancy at the 2020 event.

“People weren’t even talking about COVID-19” when they held the event in early February 2020, White said.

When the festival returned last February, White said a record 7,500 people attended each of the three days.

“I think the timing and the fact that we were kind of the first thing that happened (after the pandemic), people tried to go back to what they were experiencing,” he said.

Gem & Jam is the biggest festival that produces White. In 2017, to commemorate the eclipse, he coordinated the Symbiosis Gathering in Oregon, which drew 65,000 people.

Researchers analyzed the music choices of guests on the UK radio show Desert Island Discs. They found that the music we listen to between the ages of 10 and 30 defines us for the rest of our lives.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at [email protected] On Twitter @Starburch

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