New Yorkers have always been gung-ho about wearing costumes. Whether they do it for Halloween, performance art or because it’s Tuesday, being in costume is one of the many reasons New York is such a great place. And the Eighth Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island gave them another excuse to dress up.
The Jazz Age Lawn Party (JALP), which takes place over two weekends in the summer, is the brainchild of Michael Arenella, who came up with the idea eight years ago after hosting a private event on Governors Island. What began as a small picnic among friends has now turned into a major event, attended by thousands of people of all ages and ethnicities. The crowd is truly a diverse one, which makes it that much more special. During my time at the event, I watched as singles, couples and families with small children danced, ate and shopped with abandon and giant smiles on their faces. The JALP offers attendees the chance to have some good old-fashioned fun.
The Jazz Age Lawn Party was chock full of events for everyone. Did you ever want to learn how to Charleston or Peabody? Roddy Caravella offered lessons for beginners wanting to take a twirl around the dance floor. For those brave enough to show off their newfound skills, a Charleston contest was the perfect opportunity. Attendees curious about the event but unwilling to dress up found themselves purchasing ‘20s and ‘30s-inspired clothing and accessories from the vendors located throughout the space. Didn’t bring cash? Not to worry, as ATMs were made available for those of us who never seem to carry cash, which was a welcome convenience. Attendees had the option of ordering delicious food curated by Jimmy Carbone (owner of Jimmy’s No. 43 and Mugsy’s Chow Chow), a spread fittingly called “A Taste of the ‘20s” and featuring grub from Carbone’s Fancy Foods, Ukulele Luau and Dreamland Desserts, to name a few. Picnic baskets were also allowed into the space for those who wanted to bring in their own creations. The St-Germain area was a popular spot, offering outstanding libations created just for the JALP. There were also pie recipe and tug o’ war contests, photo booths for those who wanted to take vintage-inspired pictures, a motorcar exhibition and, of course, the incredible music.
The dapper (and very handsome) Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra were the big draw of the JALP, as they kept everyone on the dance floor, which was expanded to give more people a chance to kick up their heels. Arenella, who came to New York in 1998 from Georgia, and his band were amazing, plain and simple. But they weren’t the only musical performers. Acts such as Queen Esther and The Gelber & Manning Band kept the jazz vibe going with their own renditions of songs from the era, while the Antique DJs Michael Cumella and Michael Haar played songs from the ‘20s and ‘30s on authentic phonographs. Attendees were also entertained by dancing groups such as Roddy Caravella and the Canarsie Wobblers, The Minsky Sisters, The Dreamland Follies (accompanied by singer Gregory Moore), and pianist Peter Mintun.
As I walked through the JALP, I felt like Gil Pender in Midnight in Paris when he realized he had inadvertently traveled back to the 1920s. I was expecting to see Ernest Hemingway or Josephine Baker at any moment, ready to whisk me away to the nearest party. Attendees were in their ‘20s and ‘30s best: men in suspenders, slacks and snazzy shoes and women in sparkly frocks, stylish hats and shoes made for dancing. I met people who were attending the JALP for the first time and regulars who come back year after year. Tash was a newbie, attending the JALP for the first time this year. When she attended the event earlier this summer, Tash said that she was dressed more in what most would consider to be a traditional 1920s outfit (think Flapper Girl). But she decided to step up her game, dressing up as someone who could easily have a very interesting and believable backstory. She called her costume “Day ‘20s” and her effort truly paid off, as Tash was asked to be photographed many times by other attendees (once while I was conducting my interview).
Sara and Robert, on the other hand, are old hats when it came to the JALP. When I asked what made them come back again and again, Robert said that everyone was so cordial, which he loved, and that it was just a fun day for all. Sara summed it up nicely, saying that the JALP was “much better than being in a dark bar in New York, not talking to anyone.”
The Jazz Age Lawn Party is a spectacular event and fun for the entire family. While I was enjoying myself, I couldn’t help but wonder what the JALP would be like if it were held at night. Governors Island is already a beautiful place to host such an event, and to have the Manhattan skyline and the night sky as a backdrop would truly be a sight.
For more information about the Jazz Age Lawn Party or Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, visit www.jazzagelawnparty.com and www.dreamlandorchestra.com. Although information for next year’s party is not available just yet, keep checking the website so you don’t miss out. You won’t regret it.