The first time I noticed Wavy Gravy, pioneer of the Hippie Movement, then known as Hugh Romney, organizer of the Hog Farm, Commissioner of the Please Force, I was sitting in the balcony of a movie theater in Buffalo, watching Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music.
The sorrow I felt when the movie ended was like what Richard Dreyfuss felt in The Big Fixas he watched video of Sixties peace protests. Like his character, Moses Wine, I knew the hippie movement and its counterculture parent were already dead, and I’d be mourning it for a long time.
Wavy Gravy didn’t think so. His life over the next four decades proves the hippie movement and counterculture live on in passion and action.
More to read, counterculture pages:
- Warren Zevon Courage
- Eric Andersen, Folksinger
- Bob Dylan’s Break Out, Highway 61 Revisited
Wavy Gravy Before the Hippie Movement
A master improvisational talent, Hugh Romney (now using the name Al Dente) was good enough to attract Lenny Bruce as his manager. He opened as a traveling monologist for John Coltrane and others. There seemed to be no stopping a performing genius who, as a child in Princeton, took walks around the block with his flaky neighbor, Albert Einstein, shared an apartment in Greenwich Village with the legendary Tom Paxton, loaned Bob Dylan his typewriter to first draft A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fail, and organized Phantom Cabaret with the vastly underrated Tiny Tim.
And this was all before Woodstock.
Also before Woodstock was the formation of the communal Hog Farm, a family formed from members of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters abandoned when their bus was hijacked musicians from The Grateful Dead and others who grabbed an opportunity to manage a real hog farm after been kicked out of their cramped, psychedelic residence.
Wavy Gravy and The Hog Farm Ride The Hippie Movement Into Woodstock as The Please Force
Still Hugh Romney, guiding spirit of the Hog Farm, Wavy Gravy led the commune to Max Yasgur’s farm to help provide food, finding out they were also providing security when they landed in New York, just before the festival.
Woodstock became Woodstock Nation and not a natural disaster when the unifying spirit of the hippie movement and the leadership of Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farmers merged to successfully deal with deluges of rain and fields of mud and showed the world that a hippie nation had the spiritual resources to deal with the challenges.
From Wavy Gravy’s website bio:
‘The weather turned Woodstock into a national disaster area,’ Wavy continues, ‘and we had a chance to show the world how it would be if we ran the show, so we pulled ourselves up by our collective bootstraps and were amazing by surrendering ourselves to this interesting energy that enabled us to work days without sleep and intuitively pull off stuff that we couldn’t have thought about in our wildest dreams. And the minute we thought that it was us doing it, we’d fall on our butt in the mud. So I think that the universe was acting out these archetypes. I’ve puzzled over it for decades, and that’s the best I can come up with, that there was this amazing energy that you could surrender to, and it would move you.’
Not long after, Hugh Romney accepted the name (or title) he believes fate delivered through blues great B. B. King. As Romney lay on the stage exhausted from trying to persuade music festival goers to stop taking off their pants and those who had already to put them back on, ‘Are you wavy gravy?’ King, the next act to set up, asked. It stuck.
In an unintentionally hilarious moment in journalism in 2011, the New York Times actually referred to him as ‘Mr. Gravy.’
How Wavy Gravy Made His Life The True Stride of The Hippie Movement
Revisionist historians would like you to believe that the Hippie Movement and the Sixties Counterculture from which it emerged consisted mainly of stoned out kids hooked on narcissism and free love. (See: If You Remember the Sixties, You Weren’t There)
Wavy Gravy, co-founder of the Seva Foundation and director of Camp Winnarainbow, along with activist friends, like the Grateful Dead with their Rex Foundation, have shown that the true spirit of the hippie movement was always humanitarian. Brotherly love and service to others was and is a hallmark of all that we stood for.
Wavy Gravy’s Seva Foundation, founded with Ram Dass, (Remember, Be Here Now), and Dr. Larry Brilliant, originally raised money to fight preventable blindness and currently funding 80,000 eye surgeries a year, has expanded into other proactive initiatives like challenging the epidemic of diabetes in Native American Communities.
Camp Winnarainbow, launched as a camp for Sufi kids over twenty-five years ago, now provides clown camps for children and adults, including free sessions for homeless kids.
As for the Grateful Dead, their Rex Foundation is deeply committed to the project, The World As It Could Be, dedicated to teaching about human rights for all.
Wavy Gravy, Hippie Movement Clown
Donning clown suits to entertain children in hospitals in his local community, Wavy Gravy made the disguise permanent, including a bright red nose, when he discovered that it tended to inoculate him from police abuse at civil rights demonstrations.
In his mid-seventies now, Wavy Gravy continues to organize rock concerts, like Gathering of The Vibes, to raise funds for charity and find places for the extended families of the hippie movement to come together in communal unity.
We are all the same person trying to shake hands with our self. Remember that the next time you say, pass the gravy.’. Wavy Gravy saying.
Wavy Gravy continues, now available on DVD:
David Stone, Writer (and still proud to be a hippie)