One of the great New York pleasures in the summertime is how much fun people seem to be having! Sure, there are the swells who go off to their country houses, or a week or two at the beach or in the mountains, but it seems to me that most people (at least the people I know) stay around town.
And why not? There’s always something interesting – and often very unusual – going on.
Here’s a pretty typical example of New York summertime fun: The recent Jazz Age Lawn Party put on at Governors Island back in August (there was also one back in June, but we didn’t get to that one). I don’t know the history of this event, but I sure plan to attend any more I hear about.
I gather the driving “spirit” – so to speak – is a bandleader named Michael Arenella. He and his Dreamland Orchestra love to evoke the spirit of the 1920s and the 1930s, and it’s all pretty well covered in the local press (in fact I first learned about all this from an article about Arenella in the New York Times last spring – “Living in the Past is a Full-Time Gig,” published in the Times June 14, 2012). Some friends and I got to talking about Arenella (and, truth to tell, probably fantasizing a little about how much fun it must be to live that kind of life) and we learned from another friend about the Governors Island party.
And the party’s been around a while. This was the Seventh Annual Lawn Party, and where had we been? Once we got on board with the idea (we quickly found the advert online), we wasted no time planning to go. It was as much fun as we thought it would be and since that week-end, we’ve been amazed at the amount of coverage we’ve seen on Google and other search engines. You can see my photos here.
Why so much fun? Just take a look at how the people dress (we were a little square, but we’ll make up for that next time!), how delighted everyone is with the dancing and the socializing, the pleasures of being out-of-doors in the open lawn, lots of food – both picnics brought by party-goers and stands with food for sale – and altogether, a rousing good time.
Much of the attention was focused – naturally enough – on Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra, playing for the dancing. But even before the “real” dancing started, a dancing instructor and his beautiful partner led everyone in learning some of the dances of the era, particularly the Peabody, a great popular favorite of the time. Then Arenella and his musicians came on, and what a sound! He’s a fantastic musician, super singing voice, plays all kinds of instruments, and he had Governors Island sounding (and perhaps looking) like it must have been eighty years ago!
Needless to say, all of the dancers weren’t just amateur dancers out for a summer Sunday afternoon’s fun. We all had our favorite couples (and, yes, here’s a photo of mine) and there’s no question that some of these folks were – or had been – professional dancers at some point or another in their lives. So many people moved just so gracefully that I began to wonder if the Broadway gypsies hadn’t decided to use their Sunday off to come to Governors Island. But no. As I looked closer and concentrated on the wide range of ages and body types and energy levels – all pulled together by the enthusiasm that everyone shared – I began to realize that these people where just there to have fun, and no one was interested in proving that he or she was a better dancer than anyone else. It was just good, happy fun for a crowd of fun-loving New Yorkers.
Kind of makes you wish you had been around in the 1920s and 1930s, doesn’t it?