Tucson, Arizona’s Gem & Jam festival started as an afterparty to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which has been held since 1955 and serves as the world’s oldest and largest gem show. Josh Pollack, partner and talent buyer for Gem & Jam, says that before the live music event launched in 2007 there wasn’t much to do after the gem shows ended each night. To fill that gap, they started by taking over clubs in downtown Tucson.
“It evolved into its own standalone event, where now people travel in just for the festival,” Pollack says. “We have our own gem show that we bring forth in the festival, and the attendees will come a little bit before or stay after to venture into Tucson and the gem shows on their own.”
Gem & Jam takes place Feb. 2-4 at the Pima County Fairgrounds. While there isn’t an official partnership, they are recognized as one of the more than 40 shows that take place in the area as part of the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase held Jan. 27 through Feb. 11, including the 69th annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show scheduled Feb. 8-11 at the Tucson Convention Center, presented by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society.
This year’s lineup includes performances from Disco Biscuits, Of The Trees, Boogie T (solo) and Boogie Trio, LP Giobbi, Daily Bread and more. As a boutique festival, Pollack says he sometimes finds himself having to compete with larger music events in the Southwest.
“A boutique festival, being a smaller size, can be hard to compete with major festivals when we’re talking about going after the same artists,” Pollack says. “A lot of the artists we’re going for are already playing much larger events and it can be difficult to get those radius clauses lifted for smaller boutique festivals. It’s not a major market, so it can be harder to convince some artists to play there when they’re expecting an offer from somewhere that’s a primary market.”
While Gem & Jam has been around for 16 years and has built a relationship with certain artists within the dance music space, it can be a challenge to attract talent to Tucson because of its proximity to Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
“We’re a tertiary market, so we have certain limitations versus being in a primary market,” Pollack says. “The festival is now in its 16th year this year, so we have a really strong brand. I think in the artist and music manager community, we have a solid reputation. Certain artists really want to play the events. But, when we’re trying to go outside of our realm and outside the box – which we like to do fairly frequently – and approaching artists that might not have heard of Gem and Jam yet, that’s when we have trouble.”
On this year’s lineup, the festival features an Arizona stage that highlights the state’s talent. Pollack teamed up with local promoters to help curate the stage, as well as working with local crews. The festival also brings in local vendors and live painters from the area who bring their artwork to the show.
With sustainability at the top of mind for everyone – especially for a festival that sits in an area that reached over 110 degrees 15 times in 2023 – Gem and Jam partnered with Green Disco for the fourth time this year. The company takes data from all the outputs of the festival production, and they work together with the aim of eventually having a full carbon offset. Part of their campaign includes a $20 add-on hemp wristband, with $10 going toward carbon offsets and the other $10 donated to a local nonprofit, Tucson Clean and Beautiful, which plants shade-bearing trees in the area.