August 28, 2014
"The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names." -- The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald
Man, nobody throws a party like Jay Gatsby! Oh wait… Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra does! And he’s actually a real person whose Jazz Age Lawn party is open to all! For two weekends every year you can take a ferry back in time to Governor's Island where the 1920’s are alive and roaring. Fans of Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, and Really Good Music can expect a feast for all the senses as they don vintage attire and indulge their love of all things old fashioned.
Even before stepping onto the ferry it’s hard not to notice the ladies and gents converging at the South Ferry subway stop. Even for NY, a city known for its colorful characters and cutting edge fashions, these dapper dans and dames definitely stand out; some with parasols, some with picnic baskets, and all with the same exuberance. A quick (and very cheap) ferry ride later you step onto the green lawns of Governor's Island and are immediately greeted by the sounds of Jazz in the distance. Each decade of the 20th century has had one thing that has defined it above all others and for the 1920’s it is no doubt the music; They didn’t call it the Jazz Age for nothing.
The music gets louder as you walk up the path to the great lawn and even from a distance you can’t help but be a little overwhelmed at the scope of this shindig. In a fenced in area sits a pocket of time where men, women, and children lounge on blankets, promenade to booths selling vintage wares, laugh while enjoying drinks sponsored by St. Germaine, and do all the “latest” dance steps on a dance floor located at the front of the lawn.
There with baton in hand stands Michael Arenella, the Master of Ceremonies of this party, providing authentic entertainment with his Dreamland Orchestra and other special guests as well. What is authentic entertainment? According the Lawn Party’s official website Arenella transcribes their entire repertoire by hand from period recordings and “Their delivery and approach are faithfully accurate, and their intent sincere.” Meaning The Dreamland orchestra and their contemporaries are as close you can get to enjoying a 1920’s jazz set without a Delorean.
That kind of painstaking attention to detail carries over into the entire event, now in its 9th year. Classic cars dot the lawn, food choices tie in with the theme, and guests can wait in line to have their picture taken and receive a tintype as a souvenir. But it’s not just the production team and sponsors, all the attendees are eager and ready to play along. Old slang is thrown around, lavish lunches that would make Dame Maggie Smith blush are plentiful, and even the youngest attendees are dressed to the nines. And for those who want who want to go the extra immersive mile (for an added price) the special VIP section located behind the dance floor offers revelers a more private experience with special food and drink and round tables with crisp, white table cloths.
The powers that be have succeeded on every level at putting you on a page straight out of Gatsby without the hassle of having to roll your eyes everytime Daisy opens her mouth.
If you missed out on the fun this year I’d highly recommend bookmarking JazzAgeLawnParty.com so you can know when to start growing out an impressive handlebar mustache or practicing your pin curls . After all, how many times in your life can you step into a book, old sport?