Held every summer, the Jazz Age Lawn Party is a chance to step away from the bustle of the city and go back in time to Prohibition-era NYC with all the bells and whistles. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, but the best part is: it can be very family-friendly. So if you’ve always wanted to give it a go but don’t want to leave the kids behind, we’ve got all your insider info on how to make the Lawn Party a fantastic experience for both you and the kids.
How To Get There — and Why You Should
One moment you’re in good old NYC, the next you’re transported into the 1920s, having a picnic on lush grass with live jazz music. That’s what it feels like to attend Michael Arenella’s annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island. (The beloved New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham — who essentially went to every party ever held in New York City — opined, “I can’t think of a more delightful way to spend a weekend in the city.” So there’s that, too.)
Getting to Governor’s Island is as easy as hopping on a 5-minute ferry. Ferries leave from Brooklyn Bridge Park and Pier 6 and from Battery Park City’s 10 South Street. As an added bonus, the first three ferries every weekend are free. You can find schedules here and more detailed directions to either right here. While both are good ways to get to the island, the Manhattan ferry will get you there earlier, since the first ferry from Brooklyn doesn’t leave until 11 a.m.
Pro tip: If you’re aiming to beat the crowds, plan to make it to the Manhattan ferry around 9 a.m. Though it’s not listed on the schedule, there is an early ferry that leaves around 9:30; it’s meant for volunteers and vendors, but guests are welcome to board as well to get an early start on the festivities.
Just keep in mind that the Lawn Party won’t let guests in until 11 a.m., so you’ll be waiting quite a bit when you get there. On the other hand, you’ll be getting first pick at a seating spot. If you’re interested in exploring the island before you head to the party this is also a great option — just leave someone (or just your bags; there are officials keeping an eye on things at all times) and head off to explore the island. You get to be first in line, and the kids can have a go at the amazing new 2-story-tall slide without having to deal with any crowds.
The Lawn Party is held entirely outdoors, with no seating arrangements of any kind, and a limited menu. This means you’ll need to pack some provisions to make it through the day.
Since there’s no place to sit, a picnic blanket is a must. Bring something you don’t mind getting dirty, since it will get stepped on a lot and some areas of the field are pretty sandy. You’ll also need plenty of water — bring several chilled bottles to get you through the day. If you run out, you can always buy refreshments at the venue, but at a slightly marked up price. You’ll also want to bring some sunscreen, as the sun can be unforgiving.
Since this is a picnic, bring picnic food! Sandwiches and dips with dippables are a good choice, or anything else you think the kids will enjoy. All the dancing and fresh air will undoubtedly make them (and you) hungry. You can also buy food at the designated vendors, like various salads or artisan food from nearby food trucks.
Finally, dress in era-appropriate attire. This, of course, is optional — but many visitors will be decked out in 1920s flapper dresses and suspendered shorts so that you’ll feel like you’re on the set of a period piece. Kids can get into it by getting all dressed-up too, especially if they’re the kind who’ll enjoy all the smiles and attention it’ll earn them.
What To Do Once You’re There
You’re here, you’ve eaten, now it’s time to dance! This year’s Lawn Party is focusing on two styles of dances from the 20s: the Peabody and the Charleston. Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with either: both are fun and easy to learn. The main festivities will be preceded by a full lesson by the legendary and infinitely patient Roddy Caravella, and everyone is invited to join in, regardless of age. Kids can have a blast learning the moves or just dancing around on the dance floor doing their own thing.
After the lesson, the main event kicks off. Stay on the dance floor or sit and listen to live jazz dance music at the hands of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra. Music is lively and fun to listen — and dance to — so get out there and show off those dance moves you learned. For a change of pace, check out the second, smaller stage set up near the middle of the event space for the hot-jazz sounds of Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society, and others.
The event mixes it up with various performances like the Dreamland Follies and the Canarsie Wobblers. All the performances are fun to watch, but a note to cautious parents: the performers’ outfits can be skimpy (think women performing in sparkly bathing suits). If you’re worried about that, simply keep the kids off the dance floor when the performance begins; people crowd around the performers so you need to make your way to the front to see anything.
A Souvenir From the Trip Back in Time & Dedicated Kids’ Area
If you need a break from all the music, there are shopping spots and photo ops all along the event area. You’ll enjoy the vintage wares while your kids will get a kick from the fun accessories like fans and parasols. Take a photo next to a vintage car or seated atop a paper moon; young gents can even get an impromptu haircut from the pop-up barbershop.
Children will enjoy the little area reserved just for them. They can try their hand at the free croquet or play carnival games to win prizes. Depending on what day you visit, you and the family might also get a chance to see dance and croquet tournaments, pie baking contests, and various costume contests.
Top Insider Tips
Aside from the main festivity information, here are a few more things to keep in mind when you go:
- There’s no re-entry. Once you leave the cordoned-off area for the event, you leave for good. If you want to see the rest of the island, we recommend coming on the earlier ferry as mentioned before.
- Nab a spot by one of the dance floors even if you’re not planning to dance — the sound doesn’t carry well and if you’re too far you may miss out on the live music.
- Pick a shady spot to sit, under a tree. This is an all-day event and the sun can get overbearing.
- Bathrooms are nothing more than port-a-potties equipped with hand-sanitizer. There are plenty set up so accidents are unlikely, but they aren’t very roomy so any diaper changes might have to be done on the picnic blanket so plan accordingly.
- Don’t forget that there are two stages! The smaller stage sometimes gets forgotten (again, sound doesn’t carry) but they have some excellent performances as well, and it’s usually not as crowded as everyone tends to crowd around the main stage. If you can’t get a seat next to the main event, get one next to the mini-stage.
- Don’t bring any open bottles (or any kind of alcohol, sealed or not). Event security will make you throw it out upon entry.
- Leave on the 3:30 ferry (or earlier) to avoid the massive exodus that begins near and after the end of the show.
Jazz Age Lawn Party
August 26 & 27, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Kids under 12 are free; early-bird tickets $45 per adult; regular tickets $55 per adult; special VIP packages are also available to skip the wait and get some extras.
Have you gone to the Jazz Age Lawn Party with kids? Tell us about your experience!
— Yuliya Geikhman