For two days this August, Governors Island will be flooded with the sounds of jazz as vintage-clad New Yorkers do the Lindy Hop and sip on spritzes at a ’20s-themed lawn party.
“It’s just a beautiful mélange of humanity,” Michael Arenella, creator of The Jazz Age Lawn Party, says of the event which appeals to New Yorkers of diverse cultural backgrounds and ages. “I think that setting the tone of the Jazz Age might sound like something prohibitive or selective, but it’s actually quite the opposite."
The Jazz Age Lawn Party takes Governors Island back to the ’20s Aug. 24 and 25 with the help of jazz musician Michael Arenella, his Dreamland Orchestra and an array of vintage-themed activities. Attendees will ferry across the river, traveling from the bustle of downtown to the seclusion of Governors Island for afternoons of orchestra tunes, dancing, and Aperol spritzes.
Arenella, 41, and his orchestra act as the guiding lights of the party, playing their melodies from a stage near one of the event’s two dance floors.
While many have relegated jazz to elevators, Arenella’s orchestra brings a vibrant energy to original songs from the era. His set list includes George Gershwin’s "S’Wonderful," Bix Beiderbecke’s "I’ll Be a Friend With Pleasure" and Milton Ager’s "Ain’t She Sweet."
“The magic happens when you put that music in front of a live band,” Arenella, of Boerum Hill, says. “They breathe new life into" the music.
To help everyone join in the fun, dance classes will be hosted during the weekend to prepare attendees for the music ahead. While decade-appropriate dancing is encouraged, Arenella hopes people engage with the music however they want.
“People [in the ’20s] were really just desperate to enjoy themselves and I feel that in our current age. It’s kind of a parallel,” Arenella says. “Things are rather dark in the world and this music of the 1920s, to me, is the perfect antidote to that."
Aside from the music, the Jazz Age Lawn Party brings out some of the best vintage fashion New York City has to offer.
The event acts as a showcase and reunion for members of the city’s vintage community, according to Raissa Bretaña, 27, a fashion historian and lawn party attendee since 2016.
“From a fashion standpoint, [the ’20s are] really the first time in history that clothing becomes truly modern,” says Bretaña, of the Upper West Side. “People love it because they’re able to engage with it, recognize it and embody it without having to displace themselves too much.”
The first Jazz Age Lawn Party was hosted on Governors Island in 2005 and word of the event spread by mouth. While the debut party was a gathering of 50 people, today’s events bring out about 4,000 revelers, according to organizers.
Arenella wants people to come to the lawn party for the experience and discourages them from capturing it on their phones.
“This is an experience that is actually best lived in the moment,” he says. “That’s kind of my whole goal through the event, just have people live in the moment and celebrate what’s directly in front of them rather than use it as a status update."
The Jazz Age Lawn Party hosts a slew of activities, including dance contests, an old-time magic show, a vintage motor car exhibition, a croquet tournament, and features a variety of vintage vendors. Those just looking to relax choose to sit back and picnic while sipping on cocktails.
“I’m just trying to celebrate a very beautiful time in history with gorgeous music, fun dancing and, frankly, very kind of sexy stuff,” Arenella says. “There’s no better word to describe it to me than sexy and I think that that’s something that’s timeless."