At the 2010 edition of the Newport Folk Festival — which we still consider ourselves lucky to have attended and would love to go back to, if the whole thing didn’t sell out every year before a lineup was even announced — Jim James was a bit of a renaissance man. From singing with Preservation Hall Jazz Band to playing bass for Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore (as Appalachian Voices), he seemed to just want to be on as many stages as possible. The highlight of all of the Yim Yames-ness of it all, however, was his “solo” set (with Moore, Sollee, and drummer Dan Dorff) on the festival’s second-smallest stage (also its second-biggest). That stage was a bit weird all weekend. The vibe under the tent, where chairs were set up, was one of “let’s just chill and listen to music.” Then, there were those who set up their beach chairs just outside the tent, camped in that same spot all day, who had the same vibe touched with a little speck of “don’t block my view.” Things got legitimately testy in a few patches during Felice Brothers, which is the whitest thing we’ve ever said. But when it was Jim James’ time to take the stage, there was just this feeling of “everyone just chill, and listen to the bearded man in the brown suit.” And listen we did, everyone, to a mix of covers, Monsters of Folk songs, and My Morning Jacket jams.
A highlight of the set came when James, failing at holding back tears, dedicated his cover of John Callahan’s “Summer Never Ends” to the just-deceased Callahan. In addition to that somber moment, a spirited version of Leadbelly’s “Bring Me Li’l Water Silvy” lightened up the whole affair, but the real stand-out, the moment when hoots and hollers was the only thing the crowd could muster, was during the set-closer, “Gideon.” You can see video of that performance above, listen to the whole set here, and check out James’ 2008 Newport set over here.