Biannual Jazz Festival on Governor’s Island

Ever wanted to know what it looks like when a bunch of people dress up as if they were from an era long-passed and take this experience to a different level on an isolated island in the middle of the East River? I got to see just that at the biannual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island last Saturday.

So, I figured I had two more weeks of summer over here. Two more weeks in which I could try to cram in as many events as possible. My coworker gave me a good insider tip and mentioned that there would be a jazz event held for an entire weekend long. “Nice,” I thought, “I am into jazz and I would like to see what this is about.” She also mentioned that people would dress up and become crazy for two days straight. Oh, how right she was! Unfortunately, she couldn’t join me but I still ended up having a great time last Saturday. First off, going there was more of a last-minute decision. I threw something over I found in my wardrobe (which could have resembled beach clothes from the 20ies) and headed to the South Ferry Station. Second off, the day was a premier in many ways: I had never been to Governor’s Island and I had never been to a jazz fest, so that day I got to cross off two items at once.

It already started on the train
Nice hat on the ferry!

The ferry took off right next to the South Ferry Station. When I got there, I couldn’t believe it: The line to the ferry extended well unto outside! I’m not sure if this is normal, but I am thinking not, because the personal had a hard time managing the queue, too. Luckily, I was able to snatch the next ferry going and only had to wait 15 mins for the line to move. I guess they can fit quite a few passengers on their boat. The ride over to Governor’s Island is 10 minutes max, which is very short and you get to see the ugly industrial part of New Jersey as you ship out of the harbor. Once off the ferry, I just followed the excited and chattering crowd to the middle of the island. There was a fenced off part of lawn, which could be circled from the outside with the chance to peek inside from there. This openness of the area is why I hesitated to buy a ticket at first and to go in – I was able to see what was going on from the outside. Then I decided to do join the people inside, though, as it’s still not the real thing, this watching the party from the outside I mean. I went around and found an entry that did not have a mile-long crowd waiting in front to get in.

All in all, the fest was great, I have to admit! I would have never thought how creative people can become for an event held only twice a year. Most of the jazz folks were sitting on their picnic blankets and having a relaxed conversation. At second glance, I discovered their old-school picnic baskets made of bast (or any other material they used 90 years ago) and the sandwiches smeared in an old fashioned way. I even saw a three-story tower decorated with crackers, breads, and other goodies. Most of the people were dressed up (only some lone tourists or other curious people who happened to walk by and participate in the hype came in street clothes) and some of these “costumes” looked very authentic. It must be that these fellows go here every year and dip into an old world long faded. Sort of like the medieval festivals going on in Germany, even though this is a bad comparison, as the jazz event was a lot smaller than any castle fest at home. Anyhow, becoming obsessed with a passion is universal, and it seems like people want to be surrounded by like-minded others when they dress up for it.

Old school picnic basket!

I passed many stands with hats, jewelry, buttons, and other accessories in the 20ies-style until I ended up at a table filled with 15 different pies. Surely enough, I had arrived at the Pie Contest! A couple of pie-bakers had come up with these different creations for the fest and picked judges to taste them all. I am unsure as today which pie really won and it really did not matter for all of them looked unique and very authentic for the twenties. There were two pina colada cakes and one had unfortunately melted away in the sun. The best part was when the people waiting around the tables got their own slice, after the judges had tried all of their samples. And somehow the hungry crowds had bypassed this table and moved on, so many pieces of pastry were divided by twenty people only. I got a share of three different pieces until I had enough. The chocolate-peanut-butter one was my favorite, but I hadn’t tried the 12 others. Beef-carrot pie caught my eye because it was one of the only unsweet ones but I didn’t dare try it (I am a vegetarian)!

Several bands were playing throughout the day and people were swinging it on the wooden dance floor. One guy invited me for a dance but I gave up after one song. After this I figured that I certainly have to polish up on my swing skills, so that maybe next time I won’t make a fool of myself.
An old car was parked in the middle of the lawn and then I saw something even better: an old-fashioned doll wagon! How original is this? I thought very much so and made sure to snap a picture of it.

Real car
doll waggon

When leaving the fest I went on to discovering Governor’s Island, which turned out to be small but beautiful with many colonial houses built on it. After this excursion I went back to the ferry and surely wasn’t the only one who had this idea: A huge crowd had gathered around the dock going straight to Manhattan, so I opted for the one to Brooklyn, which was the smarter way out. I only had to wait half an hour for this boat (the other one would have probably taken me more than an hour). Everyone seemed exhausted from hanging out in the heat all day long albeit the twenties crowd was still up for a nice chatter, planning the rest of their night, and I have no doubt they got a few stares from the “normally-dressed” people during this particular Saturday.
I highly recommend the little excursion into a world filled with exoticness and I am glad I was able to be a part of the twenties for one day. Again, I deem it such a confirming piece of proof for the wonderful things going on in New York, New York!

Dreamland Jazz organisers
Dressed up group of girls
Relaxed times
Parts of my outfit - convincing enough?!
New technology in the old world
Funky sailor outfit
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7 thoughts on “Biannual Jazz Festival on Governor’s Island

  1. Oooh, I know I was in SF that day but promise me you will drop me a note next time! I’d love to be a part of it too. Doll waggon is a masterpiece, good shot!

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