Gem & Jam Festival: Another Reason to Visit Tucson This Winter

Jacob Devaney
5 min readDec 27, 2019


As Old Man Winter brings us long nights and cold days it is time to dream of vacationing in a warm sunny spot before spring calls us out of our hibernation. With cheap flights from Denver or a road trip from the West Coast, the Sonoran Desert makes for a beautiful and inexpensive midwinter adventure. This year Tucson welcomes the return of Gem and Jam, a 3-day art and music festival January 31-February 2 to kick off two weeks of the world-famous Gem and Mineral Show. This international showcase of culture and geological treasures is a convergence of people from all over the world as well as a great place to bask in the sun, meet new friends, dance until the wee hours, and forget about winter for a little bit.

Artist Jake Amazon Painting Live

Gemfest is Not Just Rocks: Gem and Jam got its’ name because it happens during The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show which is a city-wide extravaganza of earthly and celestial treasures at over 40 locations. A walk through the African Art Village is like being transported to another continent where you can experience over 90 traders of beads, masks, carvings, weavings, musical instruments, and more. Tucson is one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in North America with Native American farming settlements dating back 4,000 years. So naturally it is also an opportunity to see pow-wow dancers and meet traditional native artisans at the American Indian Arts Exposition. Your jaw will drop to see fully assembled dinosaur skeletons, mammoth crystals, and meteorites in addition to some of the most beautiful jewelry you will find anywhere on the planet.

Gem and Jam is an Immersive Festival Environment: The visionary festival scene has become an ever-growing cultural phenomena that is a lifestyle for many. Unlike a traditional festival with a music stage and maybe some food booths, visionary festivals are giant immersive experiences where you are transported to another realm of interactive creativity. Some of the world’s premiere live painters create masterpieces as the weekend unfolds. It is simultaneously cosmic and down-to-earth to engage the artists in conversation while they work which gives the art a very personal touch. There is something special about seeing a piece of art later on the internet, a T-shirt, or a poster and knowing that you spent time talking with the artist while they were making it.

Gem and Jam builds elaborate stages and intimate micro-environments for people to experience a sense of community. Costumed stilt walkers from Cirque Roots stroll the grounds, art installations in every corner, and hula-hoopers are surrounded by back-lit palm trees under the desert sky. A tent and RV village allows for theme-camps and chill-out zones just a short walk from the festival located at the Pima County Fairgrounds.

The Musical Lineup: It is becoming more common to see the integration of live music with electronic music and this year’s lineup is no exception. Big Gigantic, Dirtwire, Desert Dwellers, the Floozies, Tipper, Michal Menert, Twiddle, and Thriftworks are a few of the headliners. Billy Strings is bringing his unique newgrass mash-up of traditional bluegrass with psychedelic jam-band overtones. Marvel Years, Manic Focus, Daily Bread, and Late Night Radio will be packing the Electro-Soul Funktronica Music, which is a blend of all things to make you dance. For the seasoned festival-goers there’s also a Grateful Dead Tribute Band with Eric Krasno and Michael Travis (of String Cheese Incident). Desert Hearts will be showing up with their ragtag crew of dreamers that is part boutique festival, part record label, and part globetrotting party brigade with a conscious ethos of House, Techno and Love. Local favorite, The Bennu weaves improvisational jazz, rock psychedelia into a tucson-flavored musical odyssey. For a full list of musical acts, visit here.

Music under the desert sky

“22 years ago, Tribe13 began showcasing the best in Visionary Art. From utilizing mobile art gallery installations in remote locations across the globe to representing World Tours and mini-exhibitions in a variety of formats.” -Tribe 13 Website

Live Painting: Though all the artists have not been announced yet, they are expecting over 50 live painters. Artists like Stephen Kruse, Arron Brooks, Ellie Paisley, and A.L. Grime are a few that are already confirmed. Gem and Jam is special because they make sure that the visual element is as big and inspiring as the musical aspect. If you are an aspiring painter or just someone who appreciates art, you will enjoy the opportunity to spark up a conversation with the artist while they work!

A winter journey to the Sonoran Desert for Gem and Jam is a whole lot more than just an escape from cold weather. Tucson is a culturally rich region, with Gem and Mineral Show happening concurrently there is good reason to stay for a week or two and explore. Check out the Gem and Jam Website to learn more about the event and see ticket options here. It is no surprize that people have gone to the desert for vision quests and recreation for over a thousand years. Gem and Jam has created a yearly event that is a perfect fit, at the perfect time of the year to visit the mystique of the Arizona Southwest. I look forward to it every year, maybe I will see you there!



Jacob Devaney

Cultural-Creative, Media-Maker, Dreamer, Musician. Technology, Art, Science, Health, Spirituality, Culture, Community, Environment. UNIFY Co-Founder