Wavy Gravy is an icon of San Francisco in the 60’s yet he came from New York and lives in People’s Republic of Berkeley. On the 15th of May he will turn 75 years old. For most people today they probably equate hippies with being old, but for those of us reaching middle age we still scratch our heads at the thought of old hippies. Maybe not so much as we used to.
Born Hugh Romney [hmmm…any relation to Mitt?] he received the name Wavy Gravy from of all people B. B. King in 1969 when B. B. just before taking the stage at the Texas International Pop Festival saw Hugh sitting backstage and asked him, “Are you Wavy Gravy?” to which Hugh replied, “Yes” and B. B. responded with, “It’s OK, I can work around you” and preceded to go onstage and play. Not sure who was drinking the Kool Aid that day, but methinks B. B. might have had a glass or two
I guess that was a bit of a day of revelation because Hugh decided from that day to use the name Wavy Gravy as his legal name. He had also chose to portray himself as a clown because as a demonstrator for peace he thought that it would be difficult for the Police to have it in their hearts to arrest a clown. We’re not talking the drunken, swearing after hours staggering around in misery type of clown that TV likes to portray and make people like my wife afraid of clowns, but the happy childlike things are better type of clown.
Wavy Gravy as a clown has brought about change in the world one smile at a time. He started the Hog Farm collective commune in Los Angeles in 1966 which wasn’t the free love, let’s run naked and do nothing else type of commune but a group of people who lived and worked on the hog farm of Claude Doty and turned it into a showbiz enterprise staging concerts in the Los Angeles area before the group relocated to Black Oak Ranch in Northern California in the 90’s.
Wavy also started Camp Winnarainbow which was originally started as a day care for Sufi children so that their parents could meditate and pray and wouldn’t be penalized from that because they had kids. Wavy took the kids and made them have fun by running it like a circus and teaching the kids performing arts. It’s still thriving today though looking a bit less hippie.
He even managed to influence Ben & Jerry to create a Wavy Gravy ice cream. I have to say I haven’t tried it just because it sounds like there’s gravy in the ice cream which seems wrong to me, but there is no gravy in Wavy Gravy ice cream. I suppose that came from the time he spent with the Merry Pranksters in the 60’s. What he might be best known for, at least to me was as head of security at Woodstock [the original one] he walked up to the mic one day and gave everyone the warning, “Don’t take the brown acid.” That moment was immortalized in the movie Woodstock and showed that he wanted everyone to have fun, just have fun safely.
I actually got to meet Wavy a few years ago at a place you wouldn’t expect to see a hippie at. My wife and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary and decided to go to Harris Steakhouse in the city. We liked to have early dinners when we went out to avoid having to scream at each other over our expensive meal. We were the first ones in the restaurant. My wife ordered the Prime Rib and I had the Bison steak [rare!] as we were waiting for our meals to arrive in walks Wavy and his wife Jahanara and they are seated next to us. My jaw kind of dropped because I was raised that hippies were supposed to love the earth and not want to harm animals so they were always vegetarian. Well my parents were wrong teaching me that. I got up and walked over to him and extended my hand and introduced myself. He responded sort of like a celebrity who was just trying to have dinner and not be disturbed and I picked up on that and left at the handshake because I was supposed to be there to celebrate my anniversary after all.
As we got up to leave after dessert and started walking towards the door he extended his cane to block our path for a moment and wished us both a happy anniversary and happy life together. I had never received a hippie’s blessing before, but that day just seemed brighter because of it.