By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 12th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island nestled between the tip of Manhattan and Brooklyn ended on a high note, Sunday, August 27.
People of all ages, dressed to the nine’s in flapper dresses and glad rags, bearing wicker picnic baskets, stream from the ferries from Manhattan and Brooklyn, onto the island with its forts and structures from the Civil War and World War II. Mere minutes from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and yet a world and an era away.
A celebration of the “hot jazz” and joie de vie of the Roaring ‘20s, the festive event never fails to inspire sheer carefree happiness. It offers the full complexion, tapestry and vibrancy of New York – people of all ages and stripes turn out and for this all-too-brief time, help turn back the clock.
Conductor, composer, musician and crooner Michael Arenalla and his Dreamland Orchestra create this literal dream, with his meticulously recreated, personally transcribed songbook of the 1920s and 30s.
The entertainment abounds on two stages (and two dance floors): The Dreamland Follies evoke Ziegfeld-esque grand dance routines; Roddy Caravella and the Canarsie Wobblers is a fun-loving dance troupe that conjures the rebellious and exuberant spirit of Roaring ‘20s; Peter Mintun takes the moniker of “world’s greatest piano man”; the Gelber & Manning Band delight with their spirited music.
The event on Sunday, August 27, starts with Roddy Caravella and his wife Gretchen Fenston (who is also a milliner and costume designer in addition to being a ballroom dancer) giving a marvelous lesson in dancing The Peabody (which Caravella notes was created in 1915 by William Frank Peabody, a New York police lieutenant, who was a rather portly gent, who nonetheless loved a spirited, fast-paced dance; the innovation is in holding his partner on his right side to accommodate his girth. Caravella walks an enthusiastic group through the various movements: “The steps start and finish toe to toe,” (Caravella refers to gender-neutral “leaders” and “followers”), coming to the part of swirling the partner, “delicately flowering air” and the dipping motion.
The afternoon is interspersed with fun activities as well which you can join: Peabody Dance Contest to determine who is the Bee’s Knees; Bathing Beauties and Beaus Promenade, wearing vintage swimming outfits of the age; The High Court of Pie Contest.
The second stage features The Great Dubini and Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society.
You can immortalize the day in your own Vintage Portraits-You Ought To Be In Pictures, perched on a Paper Moons or in tintypes using the same techniques and chemicals (a mixture of gunpowder and ether) as were used more than a century ago; Antique Gramophones reanimate original recordings from the 1920s.
The only thing that bursts the illusion are the ubiquitous cell phones, but being captured in photos and videos streamed to Instagram seems as important to the happening as the music.
At the end, a rather sentimental Michael Arenella, showing his appreciation to his audience and fans, notes that when he originated the Jazz Age Lawn Party 12 years ago on Governors Island, it was just a small gathering of 50 friends and fans. The event has grown in popularity over the years “because of you,” who do so much to fulfill the look and feel of the 1920s and 30s. Some 20,000 fans come from all over during the course of the two weekends, in June and August.
Here are highlights of the Jazz Age Lawn Party in photos:
Can’t wait until next year’s Jazz Age Lawn Party? Michael Arenella also performs at The Clover Club, Flatiron Lounge and the Red Room. Visit www.DreamLandOrchestra.com.
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