At Odetta's memorial on February 24, 2009
Another clear sign that all of us children of the 60s are getting old. Hugh Romney—better known as Wavy Gravy—turned 74 this weekend. If you remember the original Woodstock, Wavy made history with the words: “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000 people.” A Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor memorializes his name.
He got his name from blues legend B.B. King at the Texas International Pop Festival when he was resting on stage as B.B. came on to perform. B.B. touched him on the shoulder and asked, “Are you Wavy Gravy?”... to which Romney replied “Yes.” “It’s OK, I can work around you” the blues legend responded and then began to play. Romney considered this a mystical event and took Wavy Gravy as his official name.
After frequently being arrested at demonstrations in the 1960’s, Wavy decided to become a clown because “clowns are safe” and he figured he wouldn’t be arrested as often. At the time of Woodstock, he was a member of the entertainment/activist commune known as the Hog Farm.
As a child in Princeton, NJ, young Hugh would take walks around the neighborhood with family friend, Albert Einstein. In the early 1960’s, he was poetry director of the Gaslight Cafe on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village and shared a room upstairs with Bob Dylan. As a monologist, he opened shows for Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and Peter, Paul and Mary to name just a few.
In 1965, when he and his wife Bonnie Jean (Bob Dylan’s ex-girlfriend) were living in a one-room cabin outside of Los Angeles, they and 40 of their closest friends in the Grateful Dead and the Ken Kesey-less Merry Pranksters (Kesey was on the run in Mexico trying to avoid a marijuana conviction) posed for a cover photo for an issue of Life Magazine.
Their conservative landlord went ballistic and kicked them out. Fortunately for Romney a neighbor heard about their dilemma and mentioned that Old Saul on the top of the mountain had had a stroke and needed someone to slop the hogs.
“So we were given a mountain top residence rent free in exchange for slopping the 45 hogs.” The Hog Farm was born, soon to hit the road in buses purchased with money earned as extras in the Otto Preminger film, Skidoo. The free “Hog Farm and Friends Open Celebration” traveled the country helping out wherever they were needed.
All this took place before Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm became the security police at the original Woodstock (known as the “Please Force”) and became known to millions.
Happy Birthday, Wavy!