The time capsule came with a soundtrack and a side of slaw on opening night of Picnic Pops last week at Old Westbury Gardens. Dance lessons, too, for rookies and the rhythm-challenged.

Fred and Tami Lamon of Hewlett didn't require any. Known to regulars of the summer concert series as "Fred and Ginger," the 70s-something couple know their way around the dance floor on the lawn sloping down from Old Westbury House. "We just love to dance," Tami says. "Swing, ballroom, whatever - we go out at least twice a week."

The Lamons say they've been coming to Picnic Pops for 15 years, though one gets the impression it could be 30. Time flies when you're having fun.

And that's what the 300 or so people who gathered before the bandstand to hear Vince Giordano's Nighthawks seemed to have - a ball. Together, they created an informal, alfresco ballroom scene.

OLDIES BUT GOODIES

The Nighthawks provided the soundtrack. The band, led by Giordano, who grew up in Smithtown, has played in such films as "The Cotton Club," "The Aviator" and "Revolutionary Road." An authority on re-creating sounds of '20s, '30s and '40s, he said he hoped his set, in the historic setting of the 1909 mansion, would "wake up the Great Gatsby spirits of the Gold Coast." Some tunes evoked a Hal Roach flick as children scampered around the dance floor. The "Guys and Dolls" medley, honoring the centennial of Frank Loesser's birth, lured adults from lawn chairs. "Fred and Ginger" wowed with graceful twirls and dips, while "graduates" of the preconcert primer tried the Charleston, Peabody and Grapevine to Duke Ellington classics.

NO ONE STARVED

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Besides the Pops, of course, the evening is also about the Picnic. Vincent and Jan Hartley of Glen Cove unpacked a gourmet meal, bottles of wine and a picnic table that unfolded from a case just larger than an umbrella. Joined by Al and Maryanne Small, also of Glen Cove, they dined on tomato-basil mozzarella, grilled chicken, squash, eggplant, roasted pepper and French bread and, for dessert, berries and chocolate chip cookies. "We go all out," said Vincent Hartley.

"But no silverware," his wife added.

Nearby, David and Beth Johns spread a lace cloth across their tiny table. "We only miss a concert if it's absolutely necessary," Beth said, peeling an apple. "The Picnic Pops is indulgent - almost decadent."

"This is our backyard," David said, as if showing his estate to guests.

While they admitted that in eight years, they hadn't taken the dance floor yet, Beth said, "I think we might give it a whirl."

Meanwhile, "Fred and Ginger," who won first prize at Washington, D.C.'s Swing Fling senior division two summers back, sat out a number to munch melon and prosciutto.

But as blue sky faded to moon-filtered black, David and Beth Johns remained seated. "It's a tough crowd," David explained, pointing to all that intimidating expertise on the dance floor.

Picnic Pops

7 p.m. Wednesdays, gates open at 5 p.m. for picnickers or those who want to stroll the garden grounds; dance lessons at 6:30. Info at 516-333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org.

Admission: $10 ($8 seniors; free younger than 17)