It was a family affair on Thursday evening as the Martha’s Vineyard Museum kicked off its 2021 Music in the Courtyard series. Folk singer Jemima James and her son Willy Mason shared the bill and, briefly, the stage as they segued between their sets.

There was the feel of a family reunion in the audience as the enthusiasm for the mother and son duo spread across the courtyard lawn behind the museum. Grandparents rocked babies. Parents wrangled children who danced and swayed to the beat. Toddlers in diapers greeted each other with unabashed joy at encountering someone else at their own eye level.

It also seemed like a multi-generational block party, with fans dressed as if for a cocktail party, a clambake at the beach or finishing a day of dock work or gardening.

Ms. James’s set featured, as she described in an interview prior to the concert, “new forms of old songs.” Without live gigs to play during most of the pandemic, she has been practicing and reworking them alone at home and, recently, on her porch with other musicians. She was thrilled to return to the museum’s courtyard series, which she played last year with Kate Taylor and Rose Guerin.

Ms. James is something of a den mother to Island musicians. — Ray Ewing

Ms. James is something of a den mother to Island musicians. Her band last Thursday featured people culled from various generations and groups she has played with over the years, including Island talent that has gone ashore to the mainland. One of those is guitarist/singer Lilah Larson, who placed Ms. James’ song Book Me Back In Your Dreams in the soundtrack to Asking For It, a recently-released film scored by Ms. Larson. Harmonica player Geordie Goude and singer Lexie Roth filled out the band as they performed the song on Thursday.

The eight-song set also featured Tennessee Blues, Slow Dancing With You and Easy Come, Easy Go. That last title would be an apt description of Ms. James’s coaxing voice that winds through her stories of quiet desire and full-throated longing, along with comforting peace and ease. Mr. Mason joined Ms. James for a final song before his own set began. The choice of Waiter at the Station was apt: Ms. James wrote it with musician Michael Mason, Willy’s father.

As the partner of a musician and mother to Willy and Sam, a drummer-turned-film animator, Ms. James used to joke that they’d be like The Partridge Family, traveling in a bus and making music together. Mother and son don’t get many chances to play publicly together; the performance was their first public show since 2017 at Featherstone Center for the Arts.

“But when we do play together, it’s very, very special to me,” Ms. James said. “It’s pure joy. He’s a fantastic musician who I really look up to. I think oh, I get to open up for him! It’s a thrill and an honor.”

Sitting on the grass after her performance, Ms. James greeted people of all ages who congratulated her. She remarked before the show that “you never completely give up the mom thing” but when her son takes the stage she said she puts that on the back burner and listens as a fan and a musician.

Willy Mason's new album will be released August 6.

Mr. Mason’s opening set of 12 songs featured a mix of songs well known since his 2004 break-out success with the song Oxygen as well as a few from Already Dead, his highly-anticipated new album due out August 6. The depth and world-weariness of Mr. Mason’s voice has always belied his chronological age. Now 36, he has grown into the “wise old soul” spirit of songs over the last two decades (Restless Fugitive, Shadows in the Dark, If It’s the End). But he’s also embracing new sounds and tools. Already Dead offers quick-paced, hard-driving, bass-heavy arrangements tinged with electronica alongside the moody, contemplative songs he is best known for.

Mr. Mason closed the show with an unexpected eight-song solo set. He warned the audience that he had only prepared to play with his band, which included drummer Stuart Rodegast, guitarist Farley Glavin and bassist Tim Laursen. Yet playing off the cuff, he entranced listeners with a string of “slow, pretty ones” including a gorgeously delivered rendition of the ballad Show Me the Way to Go Home.

Music in the Courtyard began in 2020 as a way to support Island musicians amidst the Covid pandemic; the museum splits proceeds equally with the musicians. Anna Barber, the museum’s programming manager, has worked with musician Rose Guerin on curating bands for the series.

Upcoming shows include the Dock Dance Band on July 26 and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish on August 26. The summer line-up is a particularly poignant reflection of the different eras and generations of Island music makers and how they intertwine: Ms. James arrived on the Vineyard in the late 80s; Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish was formed in 1991; Mr. Mason played in bands while still a MVRHS student in the early aughts; Dock Dance Band began playing together at Edgartown’s Memorial Wharf about 10 years ago.

Details on a September concert will be available in August. Art Cliff Diner’s food truck will be on site and serving food for purchase.

Tickets for all shows can be purchased at