Still Wavy After All These Years
Here is the Wavy Gravy feature that appears in the current issue of Relix. Also, be sure to check out Pre-Wavy Gravy: Selected Stops Along Hugh Romney’s Road.
When I arrive at the Hog Farm collective’s Berkeley, Calif. compound on a sunny, late April morning, I find Wavy Gravy in the living room of the large, rambling brown-shingle main house on the phone, cheerfully telling stories about himself to whomever is at the other end.
As I kill time examining a wall that’s plastered with hundreds of snapshots of Wavy, other Hog Farm folks, assorted hippies, kids who have gone to his rustic-but-hip summer camp Camp Winnarainbow, and God-knows-who-else, Wavy is enthusiastically uncorking little stories and one-liners that he’s probably told thousands of times: How Hugh Romney acquired his Wavy Gravy moniker (for no particular reason, B.B. King called him that backstage at the Texas Pop Festival in 1970); the reasons he took to dressing like a clown (here’s one—the police are less likely to beat up a clown at a demonstration); the secret of staying married to the same woman for 45 years (“Don’t get divorced!”); some riffs on Woodstock (the event and film of the same name that made him famous); and in a much less jokey vein, he gets in a hearty plug for SEVA, the charity organization that he co-founded 33 years ago dedicated to eradicating cataract blindness in parts of Asia and Africa.
When he hangs up the phone he remarks with mild excitement, “That was Vanity Fair. ”
Why does Vanity Fair —prestige magazine of the Hollywood and Manhattan elites, filled to the brim with ads for Dior and Dolce & Gabbana and expensive wristwatches and more expensive cars—want to talk to Wavy? Because he’s Wavy —the funny and articulate Woodstock veteran, the unabashed old school hippie clown, the tie-dye-clad humanitarian who has stayed true to his ‘60s peace-and-love ideals and devoted his life to service in a way that few of his peers have. Wavy gives great quotes, as they say, and he isn’t a bit shy about spinning a good story about the amazing people he’s encountered and the events he’s been a part of. But why all of the attention now?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. On May 15, Wavy turned 75, and he celebrated his birthday as he has for many years—putting on a benefit concert for SEVA in the Bay Area featuring a slew of his musical friends such as Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Chris Robinson, jamband pioneers Zero (with Steve Kimock), bluegrassers Hot Buttered Rum, and many others. Then, further capitalizing on the 75th birthday hoopla, he also put on a show at the Beacon Theatre in New York City with a lineup that included Jackson Browne, Crosby & Nash, Jorma Kaukonen, Dr. John, Buffy St. Marie, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco and more.
The list of folks who have played for Wavy’s benefits through the years is long and varied, which says much about him and the esteem he has earned from socially conscious musicians everywhere.
The other news peg this year is this fall’s DVD release of Michelle Esrick’s exceptional (and critically acclaimed) 2009 documentary about Wavy, Saint Misbehavin’. The film, a decade in the making, artfully traces the Hugh Romney/Wavy Gravy story from his roots in the East Coast poetry, jazz and folk scenes of the late ‘50s, to the early days of the California counterculture, the creation of the Hog Farm, Woodstock (of course), the cross-Asia bus adventure that led to the founding of SEVA years later, colorful political shenanigans that include running Pigasus the pig and Nobody for President, and his more recent work with SEVA and at Camp Winnarainbow. Esrick combines interviews with Wavy, his wife Jahanara (nee Bonnie Jean Beecher) and such friends/admirers as SEVA co-founders Dr. Larry Brilliant and Ram Dass, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Weir, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Odetta and others, with copious archival footage and a soundtrack that spans the decades with tracks by the Dead, Dylan, Sly, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Ben Harper and many more.
Like Wavy himself, Saint Misbehavin’ is both funny and inspirational. Showtime Networks is also planning to put the doc on its schedule in the not-too-distant future, so that will give the film more exposure, too.
The song that plays at the very end of Saint Misbehavin’, during the credits, is also destined to have a life of its own. “Basic Human Needs” is a catchy humanitarian call-to-arms written by Wavy and performed on the soundtrack by a typical cast of his talented friends. “It’s the ‘We are the World’ of SEVA!” Wavy tells me. “We’re in the process of getting the agreements to turn it into a charity single. I guess the people who are playing at the Beacon benefit are going to sing it for me at the end of the show. I think I’m not supposed to know about it,” he adds with conspiratorial whisper. “I’ll act surprised!”
The Howlin’ Brothers take to the Relix rooftop and share a song they wrote with Warren Haynes.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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