Last week, Untapped Cities reported that the 8th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party would be returning to Governor’s Island the weekend of August 17-18. Saturday and Sunday, flocks of New Yorkers took a short ferry ride back in time to hear authentic 1920s jazz, and watch choreographed vaudevillian dance performances. The event, which also took place June 15-16, was well-attended by gents and flappers of all ages.
1920s attire was highly encouraged, and most attendees participated in some way. Interpretations of ’20s couture ran the gamut and was as diverse as the crowd. You had the “Downton Abbey Season 3 ’20s,” (elegant and authentic), the “Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby ’20s” (trendy and flashy), the “Halloween Party ’20s” (tawdry and risqué), the “Hipster ’20s” (suspenders and bow tie), and virtually everything in between. For those who just couldn’t find the right outfit in their closet, the party featured vendors selling a variety of vintage clothes and accessories.
To get the whole ’20s experience, there were antique cars on display, creating the perfect photo-op. For those without their own camera, a vintage portrait booth featured a paper moon backdrop. Several different food tents featured an authentic menu that was carefully created by chef and restaurateur Jimmy Carbone. Selections included “Wimpy” Burgers, Grilled Bratwurst, Grilled Cheese, Sliced Beefsteak Sandwiches, Shrimp Rolls, and “Squab on Toast.” (grilled cornish hen). ’20s snacks included popcorn, ice cream, and strawberry shortcake, among others. In spite of prohibition, vendors served beer and cocktails made with St. Germain (a French elderberry liqueur).
For those of us who were unfamiliar with the dance moves of the jazz age, Saturday’s festivities began with a beginner lesson in the Charleston from Brooklyn’s own “Charleston Charlie,” Roddy Caravella. The group lesson began with the basic individual Charleston steps (easy), then added the twisting feet (harder), and concluded with the partnered version with some advanced moves (even harder). While it turns out most beginners can’t master the Charleston in one session, the lesson was enough to to get the feel it and go along with music. As Roddy explained, there are many variations and no specific rules for the Charleston. When the orchestra played, the packed-out dance floor ranged from newbies mastering the basics to couples that could have come straight from the Cotton Club. Surely this is some of the same crowd that swing dances on vintage subway cars during the Holidays. When done well, it’s amazing to watch.
Music included actual antique gramophones bringing to life original recordings from the 1920s. Live music was supplied by event founder Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, who performed their signature Hot Jazz, from a songbook personally transcribed for your listening and dancing pleasure. Vocalist Queen Esther took the stage, belting out brassy, lively ’20s tunes. Other live performances included choreographed routines by the Dreamland Follies that evoked the theatrical Broadway productions of Ziegfeld Follies and Roddy Caravella’s dance group the Canarsie Wobblers, which wowed spectators with bouncy, energetic dancing.
With 19th Century officers’ homes and 1920s brick buildings surrounding the lawn, the historic architecture of Governor’s Island provided a perfect backdrop for the jazz-age festivities. With the sights, sounds, and tastes of a bygone era, it was easy to imagine being transported back in time to Gatsby’s New York. Only the modern Manhattan skyline on the horizon interrupted the illusion. But Photoshop quickly takes care of that.