Governor’s Island was a beautiful chaos Saturday and Sunday–the music was loud and fast, flapper fringes flew and suspenders snapped through a crowd of New Yorkers dancing madly, beaming from the sheer delight of suddenly finding themselves in the height of the roaring ’20s.
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra have done it again. This past weekend, the ninth annual Jazz Age Lawn Party brought crowds by the thousands to enjoy the music and culture of a past era.
The open dance floor was punctuated by a series of singing and dancing acts, among them the brassy beauty Queen Esther, the dance stylings of Roddy Caravella and the Canarsie Wobblers, a “gramophone DJ” who did little but stand on stage in front of two giant gramophones and watch them play, and, of course, the singer, horn player, and fearless leader of the Dreamland Orchestra–not to mention founder and producer of the entire event–Mr. Arenella himself.
The outfits were fabulous enough to lure Bill Cunningham from Manhattan, who was spotted in his trademark cerulean blue jacket weaving in and out of the crowd. But if you came feeling under-dressed there were plenty of clothing purveyors scattered along the edges of the crowded lawn of picnic blankets. With vintage shops galore, vendors included: Wild Fell Hall Vintage, Gretchen Fenston Millinery and Dora Marra Hair Accessories and Fascinators. And it didn’t stop there; hand-made suits were being sold and so were black and white pictures of event-goers, taken with a camera from the era and developed right there on the lawn, presumably so you could document just how good you looked in that feathered fedora (many took advantage of this rare socially acceptable opportunity to sport the controversial hat.)
And for those who needed a break from shopping or dancing, there were all kinds of delicious foods to munch on. Although many brought their own stash, others took advantage of the delightful mix of county fair food and decadent garden party-esque offerings–food purveyors like Joe’s Grill of Brooklyn, Michelle’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese and Pickles, Carbone’s Fancy Foods, and Kreamland ice cream.
But let’s not forget a very important part of the 1920’s: Prohibition. The Jazz Age Lawn Party–sponsored by two alcohol brands, St Germain Elderflower Liqueur and Martini–celebrated the era’s innovative methods of illicit imbibing with ’20s-inspired cocktails, courtesy of Julie Reiner from the Clover Club and her team.
Senior Brand Manager of St Germain, Rohith Reddy, looking dapper in a suit worthy of Gary Cooper, told the Observer that the brand’s 7-year partnership with the event is “more about authenticity… We always look for partners that celebrate the best in what they do.” One look around the Lawn Party and there was no doubt that Mr. Arenella and his team had indeed orchestrated (no pun intended) an event above and beyond what 2014 tends to offer.
What began nine years ago as a small gathering of about fifty people has burgeoned into one of the biggest events of the season, taking in around 5,000 people a day, both of which were sold out. But Mr. Arenella makes a point of saying that he does not want it to become too big. The intimacy and non-corporate genuineness of the event are what he believes make it special.
Mr. Arenella fell in love with the ’20s a long time ago. The ebullient, indulgent age is hard not to like, but for Mr. Arenella it’s something more meaningful. “I think that the spirit of the ‘20s was the spirit of looking ahead and looking ahead with an optimism… It’s certainly no secret that right now in the world there are a lot of horrible things happening–[like] in the Middle East and the Ukraine–and I think that people are looking for a way just to celebrate life and remember the simple pleasures,” he said. “This is my way of contributing to our society something peaceful and… restorative.”
Next year will be the tenth anniversary, with a weekend-long event already slated for June and another in August. So start planning your costumes now; we’ll see you on the dance floor.