Beauty of Community: A Review of Gem and Jam 2017
06 Mar 2017

The Author

Profile photo of Abby Benjamin
Soulful Scorpio always chasing the next adventure in the outside world and within.

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As our human species evolved on this planet, we discovered that community is vital to survival.  Just as hunters and gatherers stayed in groups to produce food, clothing, and shelter for the tribe, today we continue to teach each other trades and share knowledge that helps further our evolution — the many bright parts working together for a harmonious whole. Beyond these necessities for survival, we also look to our community for guidance, acceptance, and love, for what is the whole if we cannot find peace within it?

Sonic Bloom 2015

In terms of our energetic make up and chakra system, significance of community makes sense when looking at the first (or “root”) chakra.  The fundamental principle emanating from this chakra is the need to feel part of a larger group or tribe.  In Caroline Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit she says, “As tribal beings, we are energetically designed to live together, to create together, to learn together, to be together, and to need one another.”  This concept of interconnectedness is beautifully illustrated by the spontaneous community created at a music festival, as it’s the very force that brings the event to life and leaves us with hearts full of love and minds full of lasting memories.

Patrons at Gem and Jam 2017

Although community wasn’t my initial reason for attending Gem and Jam 2017, it ended up being my saving grace. The kindness and love I received from souls I encountered helped pull me out of a dark place, allowing me to not only enjoy the event but feel held, accepted, and worthy of love.

Back in December 2016 I struck up a romance with a gentleman I met at Horning’s Hideout in 2013 (name purposely left out, will be referred to as “Corey”). I live in Boulder and he lives in Lake Tahoe, and over the years we had a few brief encounters online and at shows. We serendipitously reconnected in Las Vegas this past November, and a distant romance blossomed shortly after. He mentioned that he would be going to Gem and Jam, and I thought that the festival would be a good opportunity to reconnect, because what better driving force is there to hit the road than the fantastic wonder of love in a far-off place?

And so I felt called to cover Gem and Jam as a writer for the sake of the story rather than to simply attend for the sake of fun.  Festivals leave me with a lot of inspiration, and I love being able to give back through creative expression. I reached out to Jackie Collins, an acquaintance who shoots for the Denver Westword and 303 Magazine, to see if she would shoot photos at Gem and Jam. Jackie and I met through Sparkleberry Lane’s founder, Jessica Dugan, but had only interacted once or twice. She agreed, and my heart swelled as the plans began to come together.

My campsite at Gem and Jam 2017

As the event approached my excitement steadily climbed. To make sure Corey and I were comfortable, I gathered a large tent, an air mattress, rugs, an easy-up — the works. I bought new outfits and a present for Corey. The plan was to drive fourteen hours by myself to Tucson so that I could transport the gear. I knew I’d probably run into a few Colorado friends, but my primary focus was having an amazing weekend with my new love interest.

The final weeks before the festival were closing in. I reached out to Corey to find out when and how he’d be arriving, but he was becoming distant. Every time we spoke he managed to avoid details about his travel plans, saying that he was “figuring it out.” Seeds of doubt were planted in my mind, and I realized that at this point I had committed to covering the festival whether he’d show up or not.

The week of the festival I still hadn’t nailed Corey down on his plans, and I felt very uneasy as I packed up my car and got on the road. He was avoiding most of my communication, and I tried to prepare myself for the scenario that seemed to be unfolding: one where I’m left attending the festival alone.

I knew about the loneliness associated with solo travel, so I took my time getting to Arizona making stops in Trinidad, Albuquerque, and Flagstaff. By the time I finally got to Phoenix, three hours north of the festival, the huge glaring unknown factor of whom I’d be spending my weekend with was driving me mad.  I became more forceful in my communication with Corey, and was finally given the verdict that he would not be showing up (lame excuses not worth mentioning, but no less B-S).

Waves of disappointment, confusion, anger, frustration, and sadness washed over me as I made the last few stops in Phoenix and Tucson. Amidst swirls of intense emotion, I tried to find my center and remind myself that everything happens for a reason. I told myself, “If there’s one place in the world that can revive your energy and pull you out of this rut, it’s a music festival — and they RARELY go as planned.”  Housing competing feelings in my heart, I got in the car with my head held high and made my way south to the venue.

Upon arrival I was guided by friendly volunteers to the car camping area where I was given the freedom to park and camp wherever I wanted in a large open space. I picked a spot in eye-sight of the venue and set up next to a friendly pair from Oregon. As I was assembling my majestic campsite creation, feelings of disappointment and frustration began to return, and as the Oregonians struck up conversation with me, I let it slip that I had been stood up and was feeling pretty down about it. They came back with pure love and insisted that I hang out with them for the night.

“Look Within” at Gem and Jam 2017, installation by Celeah Norris and Bobby Skibber, elementaldna.com

The three of us (all Scorpios!) got along great, and I soon found out that they were artists responsible for an installation called “Look Within” — a beautiful statue of a woman made out of mirror shards with an exposed heart that came to life at night.  And so I headed into the venue to take a look at their piece and get the lay of the land.

Each festival has its own special energy that provides the foundation for a spontaneous community to manifest.  A portion of the energy comes from the music, art, layout, and logistical pieces that organizers work so hard to bring together. Another portion comes from the organizers’ intention and mindfulness around attendee experience; the ways in which they market and position themselves in the consumer market is huge!

When I attended Gem and Jam two years ago, I felt a warm and welcoming energy. The staff and security were friendly, and I got the sense that we were enjoying the event as one community instead of as attendees vs. producers. Usually as festivals grow (Gem and Jam doubled in size this year), the barrier between producers and attendees becomes stronger because the production is larger, and there are more attendees to corral.  However, in spite of it’s larger size, Gem and Jam 2017 had a relaxed sense of community and shared enjoyment between those working, vending, volunteering, and attending. There was no true division between participant. That is a beautiful and hard thing to accomplish, which our friends at Burning Man do very well. 

Pima County Fairgrounds (the venue) is made up of pre-built structures, and the festival was set up within and around them. This had a completely different feel than a festival created out of nothing, including some great amenities like NORMAL RESTROOMS — a perk I didn’t realize made such a pleasant difference until I experienced it for myself.

Quartz stage, Gem and Jam 2017

On my way to the magical “Quartz” stage — a beautifully designed portal with MASSIVE quartz crystals shining in the sun — Electric Feel laid down chill yet pre-party dance vibes.  The stage was intimate, but still had enough space for people to dance and flow throughout the day and night.

The “Onyx” stage was a large indoor space with a warehouse feel. The Quartz and Onyx stages hosted a variety of electronic jam and house beats Thursday night, including Rebel Disco, Project Aspect, and Unlimited Gravity. Late night headliner, EOTO, brought the crowd together for a transformational and experimental sound experience that got everyone pumped for the weekend ahead.  The music temporarily drew me out of my heartache, and I began to surrender to the weekend just as it was.

Jackie (SBL photographer) arrived Friday morning, and though we had only met once or twice I noticed a natural comfort and ease between us. We talked about plans for the weekend, shots we wanted to get and shows we wanted to see. The comfort transformed into excitement and connection, and a sister-like energy began to surround our interactions. Between budding friendships with Jackie, Celeah and Bobby (Oregonians), my feelings of sadness and disappointment began to dissipate.

Laura and I

I was excited to discover that visionary artist and friend Laura McGowan was painting onsite, and with her help I transformed into a mermaid for the day. Waves of love and acceptance flowed from Laura as well, bringing my spirits higher and deepening our friendship. Laura’s setup by the main stage turned into a meet up/hang out spot for our blossoming community.

As the weekend progressed, I continued to find evidence that the organizers had put time and energy into attendee experience. The lineup each night had an overarching theme on the main stages (“Emerald” and “Tanzanite”), but if you weren’t into the theme there were different genres on smaller stages at the same time.  The Emerald stage was the main attraction, with a dozen live painters scattered throughout a grassy area and stretched tarps cascaded overhead. The Tanzanite stage was set up facing the Emerald stage on the other side of a covered pavilion, and it seemed to have an effervescent glow at all times.  The production team worked non-stop setting up for the next act when the other was hosting music, resulting in back-to-back sets all weekend.

Mike Gordon, Gem and Jam 2017

Friday night on the main stages kicked off with HÄANA‘s hauntingly beautiful sounds, reminiscent of Emancipator and Bonobo but with a feminine vibe. Then, Kyle Hollingsworth brought heart-warming and upbeat String Cheese jams, followed by bluegrass legends Infamous Stringdusters who created a fun, high-energy set. Next was Mike Gordon of Phish with keyboardist Robert Walker, guitarist Scott Murawsk, drummer John Kimock, and percussionist Craig Myers, which was my favorite set of the weekend. They weaved through Phish-like jams with drawn-out chords that created a dynamic and groovy set to dance to.

Headliner the Floozies showcased their evolution into a powerhouse jamtronic act. I first saw the Floozies late night at Wakarusa 2014 where they delivered a killer party with samples from fun rap and dance songs, somewhat reminiscent of Girl Talk. They’ve come a long way, now opening for SCI and headlining Gem and Jam, and their sound has evolved to rely less on samples and more on their own production. They still maintain the party atmosphere but incorporate more jamtronic elements, which I experienced in full force on Friday night. 

Opiou, Gem and Jam 2017

For attendees who wanted more electronic instead of jam that night, the Quartz and Onyx stages hosted electronic and jamtronic acts like Tnertle, Unlimited Aspect, and Jaw Gems. Electronic fans had the main stages on Saturday night with heavy-hitters like Australian beat crafter Opiou, trap wizard G Jones, and electro thump master Gramatik. I was more drawn to the jam side that night and tried to avoid the main stages which were PACKED with elated fans surfing the high energy vibes.

Lotus also graced the Tanzanite stage on Saturday with an amazing set comprised of well-known older jams mixed in with tracks from their new album, Eat the Light (full interview with bassist Jesse Miller here). For myself and patrons who wanted more jam and bluegrass that night, the Quartz stage hosted great acts like Montana-based pickers Kitchen Dwellers, who shredded through an amazing set of originals and covers. 

By this point in the weekend my demeanor had completely shifted into a state of bliss.  The festival was not only curated as an amazing music and art showcase, but also provided the container for a loving community to surround me when I needed it most. Beyond friendships with Jackie, Laura, Celeah, and Bobby, I met many others offering endless kindness that restored my self love and appreciation. Though feelings of unworthiness and anger still came up from time to time, I realized that if Corey had not invited me along then ditched me, I wouldn’t have made these beautiful connections. 

I spent Sunday exploring the workshop area, vendors, and the healing sanctuary. There was a beautiful stage set up to host a range of workshops including flow arts, yoga, nutrition, and different healing modalities. An eclectic variety of craft and food vendors filled the space between the larger and smaller stages, and I was particularly drawn to the mesmerizing handcrafted leatherwork produced by Lost Sailor Designs (exclusive coming soon!). For meals I found myself repeatedly gravitating to Sol Tribe Cuisine for vegan and gluten free creations that kept my body going throughout the weekend, my favorite meal being the “Sol Bowl” made up of rice, beans, steamed veggies, and a delicious cashew sauce.

Workshop tent, Gem and Jam 2017

Separate from the workshop area and vendors was a grassy clearing dedicated to healing. White tents with beautifully draped fabrics offered massage, reiki, and other types of energy work. I had a profound reiki session with a healer named Will Mitchell (reikiwithwill.com), and left feeling aligned and super charged for my final day and night at the festival.

Gipsy Moon began the evening with lovely folk sounds followed by a mellow, yet intricate set by Steve KimockPoolside brought the energy up with outrageous disco that had everyone dancing all over the grounds. The New Deal transformed the high energy with a psychedelic jamtronic experience that made me feel like I was in an interstellar video game (a place I frequently find myself during the New Deal). The main stage was wonderfully capped off with a fun set from Colorado-based funk masters the Motet.

The Motet, Gem and Jam 2017

Sunday night had a wonderfully diverse music lineup that kept us all in the groove for a final night together.  As I looked around at the new friends I had made and the acquaintances I now call my friends, I felt the raw beauty of festival community wash over me. It’s in our human nature to lean on our community in times of pain, and I am eternally grateful for the healing energy I received. We come from different places physically, mentally, and emotionally, but we all want to connect with like-minded souls and be immersed in amazing music. In the “real world” we would be strangers, but in the space and time of a music festival we are one family.

POST FEST TIPS:

The love and light doesn’t have to end when the weekend is over!  I always try to maintain the sense of wholeness I feel after a festival, even if my body is physically exhausted.

Follow up with people you meet! You never know when your paths will cross again.

Keep spreading the sparkle, at festivals and in life!  Our earth and the universe will thank you.

Thank YOU for reading my review of Gem and Jam 2017 — let me know what you thought! Comment or shoot me an email at abbybenjamin@me.com.

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