Guitarist Justin Mazer, playing with American Babies and several other projects, had a busy 2016, to say the least. Here, he breaks down his favorite gigs of the year, with video and streaming audio where available.  

Jam Cruise with Electron

Jan. 6-10

Miami, Florida, Belize, Mexico

Jam Cruise was my first show of 2016. It was my first time playing on an international cruise. I only had one set to play over the course of five days, and it was the very last set on the boat at midnight on Monday morning just hours before the boat returned to the Port of Miami. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for the entire duration of the 5-day cruise until about an hour before we were scheduled to take the stage. Sure enough, as soon we hit the first note to our first song…rain starts coming down sideways along with the heaviest wind gusts I ever experienced on stage. Tom (Hamilton) and I agreed afterwards that the gig would have been easier to play if there was a bear trying to attack us instead.

Cayamo Cruise with American Babies

Jan. 31-Feb. 7

Miami, Florida, British Virgin Islands, St. Marteen

This Americana- and songwriter-themed cruise saw us sharing the bill with legends and contemporary acts such as John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and many others. The American Babies played several sets throughout the week, but the highlight for me was us being the house band for the Grateful Dead tribute set. We played with and backed such artists as Steve Earle, Larry Campbell & Theresa Williams, Jim Lauderdale, Dave Bromberg, Sara Watkins and others.

F.M. Kirby Center with King Radio

May 5

Wilkes-Barre, PA

Some of the best shows are the ones that come together last minute. This was a really nice hometown show for me. I was very excited to get the semi-last minute call to play guitar with King Radio for a small run of shows in May. I have played with them in the past but was never a constant member. The run kicked off at the F.M Kirby Center Chandelier Lobby series. It was nice to play with some of my best friends and favorite musicians and see so many familiar faces.

Brooklyn is Boss” with American Babies

June 1

Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY

I was never much of a Springsteen fan, but this show ended up being a lot of fun. Tom is a super fan, and we all had a blast putting this show together. Guests throughout the night included Erik Deutsh, Jackie Greene, Ross James, Katie Jacoby, Clark Gayton (who has played with Springsteen many times), Paul Vercesi and Kevin Batchelor.

Full audio of Brooklyn is Boss show

Fox Theater with American Babies

July 3

Boulder, Colorado

This was an after-party for the Dead and Company show at Folsom Field in Boulder and featured special guests Oteil Burbridge (Dead and Company and Allman Brothers) and Marco Benevento. The show sold out weeks in advance. Highlights included some great jams with Oteil and Marco, as well as a great opening set by San Francisco-based outfit Midnight North.

Full audio of Fox Theater show

Peach Music Fest with Electron/American Babies

Aug. 11-14

Montage Mountain, Scranton, PA

Like many other 2016 summer festivals, Peach Fest was hammered with rain and thunderstorms. The set with Electron was delayed and almost cancelled last minute. We didn’t take the stage until almost 2 a.m. on Friday morning after several lightning delays. The crowd stuck around and braved the weather, and it ended up being a pretty epic set. The crowd was huge and stayed with us until nearly 4 a.m. American Babies threw down a set in much sunnier weather on Saturday afternoon.

Full audio of Electron set

Cannabis Cup with Cabinet

Clio, Michigan

Aug. 27

It’s no secret that I am great friends with the guys in Cabinet and I love collaborating with them. A super last-minute show offer that the band couldn’t refuse combined with Mickey having already scheduled an international vacation resulted in me getting the call to fill in on guitar with them for this gig. Both the band and I kept it pretty low profile. It was a lot of fun to hop in the van with those guys for the weekend. We hereby proclaimed the show as the “Secret DABinet Set.”

Outlaw Music Fest w/ Chris Kearney, Dylan Skursky, Pappy Biondo and JP Biondo

Sept. 18

Montage Mountain, Scranton, PA

As I have previously mentioned, some of the best gigs all year are the totally random ones that come together last minute. The Outlaw Fest featured Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow and others. To keep up with the “outlaw country” theme of the fest, Chris Kearney (Coal Town Rounders), JP Pappy, and Dylan (of Cabinet), and I played tribute sets to country legends John Prine, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard in between the headlining sets. We didn’t rehearse or even really do much planning at all as to what we were going to play. We kept it loose, just as the country godfathers would have wanted.

Full audio of Outlaw Music Fest sets

Sweetwater Music Hall with American Babies (Featuring Bob Weir, Dave Schools, Holly Bowling)

Nov. 18, 19

Mill Valley, CA

The American Babies finished up the fall tour with two very special shows at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, CA. Night one saw us back Bob Weir for a set. Night two included Holly Bowling playing the entire night with us as well as Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools holding down the low end for set two. I thought it was some of the best playing/improvising the band has hit all year, not to mention the honor it was to share the stage with Bob, Dave and Holly.

Nectars with Gatos Blancos

Dec. 15

Burlington, VT

This was the debut show of a new project featuring members of Cabinet (Dylan and Pappy), American Babies (Al and I) and Mike Gordon’s band (John Kimock). It was one of the coldest nights of the year, and we pulled in a surprisingly great crowd for having never played together before. I look forward to making more music with these guys in the future.

Full audio of Gatos Blancos show

Top photo by Jason Riedmiller

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