“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!” Jay Gatsby’s infamous declaration was on the lips of every New Yorker swathed in linen and lace on Governor’s Island this past weekend for the bi-annual Jazz Age Lawn Party. And what a party it was! For two magical days in August, the island off Manhattan became that lavish estate in fabled West Egg, suspended in time, where a sea of Daisy Buchanans and Nick Carraways could be found sipping cocktails and dancing the Charleston to the tune of Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra. Gatsby himself couldn’t have hoped for a more smashing celebration of the roaring 20s.
Now in its 8th year, the wildly popular lawn party is the magnum opus of Brooklyn-based jazz musician Michael Arenella, who told Examiner.com on Saturday that his passion lies in “Bringing such a wide array of different people together to celebrate the very simple pleasures of life—music, dancing, and friendship.” Indeed, part of the event’s success is that it appeals to all ages. Couples both young and old, gaggles of friends, parents, and toddlers alike feasted and fêted for hours on end. Delicious refreshments conceived by restaurateur Jimmy Carbone for the event’s “Taste of the 20s” included such nostalgic delights as gourmet grilled cheese, fancy shrimp rolls, kale Waldorf salad, strawberry shortcake, and Parmesan truffle popcorn. Event co-host St-Germain provided summery elderflower-infused cocktails laden with champagne and fresh berries. For those looking to add a bit of flair to their costumes, various NYC vintage vendors showcased their wares on the outskirts of the main lawn.
Of course a Jazz Age party would be nothing without its music. A canopy of trees shaded a large dance floor from the warm August sun as ladies and gents, accompanied by Arenella’s orchestra, foxtrotted and shimmied till sundown. Other memorable performances included a Vaudevillian tap act by The Minsky Sisters, stunning vocal performances by jazz singer Queen Esther, and an Art Deco dance act by The Dreamland Follies along with celebrated crooner Gregory Moore. During a break from her stage time, Queen Esther praised Michael Arenella’s hard work in putting on the event: “You get a real taste of what the [1920s] sounds were like. I mean think about it: There are very few places anywhere where you can see a full orchestra playing the music of yesteryear. And then there’s even fewer places where you can dress up and dance to that orchestra. Those kinds of things are [usually] for the elite and it’s not necessarily anything that’s affordable. This is only 30 bucks!” Yet Arenella remains humble in spite of all the press and throngs of fans singing his praises. When asked what he would do if he were transported back to the Jazz Age for one day, the musician responded simply: “I would spend that day walking from the tip of Manhattan on the North End to the South End. I’d walk tip to tip, down Broadway.”
For more information on this season’s events held at Governor’s Island, please visit http://www.govisland.com/html/visit/calendar.shtml. Can’t get enough of Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra? Check out http://www.dreamlandorchestra.com/music.php to see how his music is made!
If you didn't make it to the event, the fabulous St. Germain cocktail recipes are below!
The St. Germain Cocktail
2 parts Brut Champagne or Dry Sparkling Wine
1½ parts St-Germain
2 parts Club Soda
Method: Stir ingredients in a tall ice-filled Collins glass, mixing completely. Think of Paris circa 1947. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Variation: Think of Sartre circa 1947. Be the lemon twist.
1 bottle Sauvignon Blanc or Dry White Wine
1 cup St-Germain
2 Fresh Peaches
5-6 Fresh Strawberries
6 Fresh Raspberries
1 bunch Fresh Grapes
Method: Stir ingredients in a pitcher or carafe. Soak for approximately 15 minutes (or longer if desired). Serve in an ice-filled glass, then telephone your physician and regale him with stories of your exemplary fruit consumption. Serve with St-Germain spoon-straws to enjoy the fruit while drinking
Additional reporting by Brigid Ronan.