Thriftworks performs on stage at Gem and Jam 2018. Photo courtesy Peter Speyer.
By ELLIANA KOPUT
After their 2019 hiatus, Gem and Jam Festival returns to the Pima County Fairgrounds Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2020. Encapsulating a collective experience of music, visual arts, gemstones, camping and workshops, this festival is a grassroots staple in the Southwest.
The festival takes place in conjunction with the Tucson Gem and Mineral show. The Gem Show itself has several events taking place across town between Jan. 20 and Feb. 21.
“Over 55,000 people are expected to gather and visit Tucson, AZ from around the world during the 3 week Gem and Mineral Show,” reads the Gem and Jam website. “Which has motivated the organizers of the Gem and Jam Festival to provide a unique atmosphere- celebrating the art and ethos of the Gem and Mineral community along with entertainment and visual arts.
Gem and Jam Festival harbors a lineup of local, national and international talent, consisting primarily of jam bands and electronic artists.
“Gem and Jam is a music festival that is centered around the community, arts and the love of music,” said Ivar Cloudshadow, a Pima Community College student majoring in graphic design. “I believe that it is an event curated out of love and connection, as opposed to profit or status. I think that’s what sets it apart from many of the more mainstream music festivals in the states
“And why it is easily one of the best, most energetic events in Arizona!”
Jake Atlas, otherwise known by his stage persona “Thriftworks” is a West Coast-based artist. Specializing in experimental electronic music, his work transcends genre binaries through its unification of spirit, cultural roots, television and Animalia.
Thriftworks is set to play at Gem and Jam Festival at the Pima County Fairgrounds on Jan. 31.
“Thriftworks is a favorite of mine and one the artists who I really got into when I first started doing flow arts,” said Cloudshadow. “ I am definitely excited to dive into his unique, psychedelic style!”
Thriftworks performs alongside Russ Liquid at Gem and Jam Festival 2015. Video courtesy YouTube user “dinkus417.”
Although he has performed at the event many times in the past, Atlas has many personal connections with Tucson. His parents were both Wildcats, and they met at the University of Arizona. He was born here and lived his first four years here before moving to the East Coast with his family.
Atlas always has had family in Tucson, and his grandmother was an artist involved in the Gem and Mineral Show for many years.
“I later realized after I played a couple Gem and Jams, I kind of put two and two together,” Atlas said. “(My grandma) was actually a metalsmith and sort of a minimalist wire-wrapper.
“I still have an uncle and auntie that live there, and they’re really great people, doctors and equestrians. They’ve been known to come up on stage with me.”
As his return to Tucson nears, Atlas said that he’s looking forward to exploring the town more.
“I’m definitely trying to get an Eegee’s freeze” Atlas said. “I remember we used to go there a lot.”
Atlas also takes great inspiration from the Aztec culture and remarked his appreciation for the name of this publication. In 2011, he dropped a teaser from his then-to-be released album “ZenZero.” This was done “for the love of the Quetzalcoatl,” a Mesoamerican hero that Aztecs claimed to have descended from.
In 2008, he made the leap from Pennsylvania to Berkely, California, to study audio engineering at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts.
“There weren’t many schools that offered bachelor’s degrees in technical programs that were more of a trade,” Atlas said. “Nowadays, I think people realize that it’s more about the experience depending on what you want to do.”
Atlas was empowered by the music scene when he moved out west, especially the community of Burning Man enthusiasts.
“It’s like almost everyone is an artist out here, so they’re all more down to support and collaborate with each other,” Atlas said.
For those who don’t know, Burning Man is an event that takes place annually in Nevada. The event consists of a neo-civilization, Black Rock City or “the playa,” constructed and contributed to by all attendees.
The name “Thriftworks” came about as a representation of the earlier stages of Atlas’ career.
“I didn’t really have much to work with,” he said.
He accumulated studio equipment secondhand, “fashioning rickety shelves out of scrap wood” and “using old home theater amps from the ’80s.”
“My song structure has been pretty consistent for the majority of my production career,” Atlas said.
There is a certain authenticity that can be recognized even through the discographic evolution of Thriftworks. He often begins with influence from samples, constructing an entire song to fit with and grow from there.
Atlas maintained that success is about more than just playing a large venue, although that is its own incredible feeling.
“When you’re out there and someone talks about a specific song and what it did for them,” he said. “Whether it’s at all what it meant to be or not, I think those are the most impactful moments.“When you hear from people directly what they fell into and what struck them and how it affected them … I think hearing from people, some of their personal tales of experiences with my music is definitely one of the highlights of doing this.”
Atlas left the Aztec Press with a note of advice for aspiring artists: “Follow your truest passion, exactly what you’re into. Just follow it and study it and practice and practice and practice. If it’s not working for you, you can change your course. But most likely if you stick with something long enough, good things will happen.
“Stay creative and stay unique. But ain’t nothin’ wrong with taking inspiration from other people and trying to make things that look or sound like someone that inspires you. It’s a starting point to figure out these creative inspirers are doing it, and then make it your own.”
Thriftworks’ current project “Terry’s Tricklings” is underway, and he is excited to share new music with the crowd for Gem and Jam 2020. To check out more of Jake Atlas’ music, visit https://jatlas.bandcamp.com/music
For information on Gem and Jam Festival 2020, visit: https://gemandjamfestival.com