His Oct. 20 An Evening With Wavy Gravy one-man show at City Winery will be “semi-sensational,” says Wavy Gravy, as only he can put it.
The eternal hippie/activist/clown—“a saint who walks among us,” as Elvis Costello puts it—will share highlights of his remarkable life as an American counterculture hero of the 1960s and beyond.
“It’s oral history—and I’ve been around for a lot of it,” says Gravy—birth name Hugh Romney–who “in 22 years I’ll be 100.”
“I spill the proverbial beans, and it’s pretty darn amusing, and sometimes, enlightening.”
Indeed, Gravy “started out on the planet a young boy in Princeton, N.J.”—after being born in East Greenbush, N.Y.
“Albert Einstein took me on walks around the block, and I was a teenage beatnik,” he says, then recounts how he roomed with Bob Dylan in the early ‘60s in Greenwich Village, where he served as poetry director and then entertainment director at the Village’s fabled Gaslight Café.
This was the time of the ‘60s folk music revival, and Gravy remembers opening the Village’s nearby Bitter End club with Peter, Paul and Mary.
“The next thing I knew I was doing standup comedy, opening for John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk and those guys,” he continues. Now managed by Lenny Bruce, he moved to California and in short order joined with the Grateful Dead and the Merry Pranksters of Ken Kesey fame, then “segued” into the creation of the legendary Hog Farm collective, “and running the first pig for president of the United States, and then Nobody for President.”
“Of course I’ll talk about Woodstock, of which I can wax on the hippie glory days, and then a series of rock festivals, and driving two buses from London to the Himalayas—which was beautifully recorded in Saint Misbehavin’.”
He refers to the acclaimed 2010 documentary Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie, which also details Gravy’s extensive charity involvements, especially the Seva Foundation–the international health organization that he co-founded to build sustainable health projects and for which he’s enlisted benefit concerts starring the likes of Costello, members of the Dead, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash.
“We’re now up to 3.5 million eye-saving surgeries worldwide,” he says of Seva activities. “Eighty-five percent of the world’s blind don’t need to be blind, and we’re constantly staging benefits and using music to inform people that every seat in the house is somebody in India and Nepal and Cambodia who’s not bumping into s**t anymore because they’re listening to wonderful music.”
Gravy also continues 40 years of running Camp Winnarainbow, a circus and performing arts camp adjoining the Hog Farm in Laytonville, Calif.
“It’s my greatest legacy besides Seva,” he says. “We’re now getting children of children who came to camp, who learn survival in the 20th Century—or how to duck with a sense of humor and compassion! We get 700 kids each summer—and have one week for grownups: It’s never too late to have a happy childhood!”
Gavy also maintains his role as emcee of the annual Dead-inspired Gathering of the Vibes summer music festival in Bridgeport, Conn.
“I always tell people that I’m still the fog in the mirror,” concludes Gravy. “Kurt Vonnegut said that hsitory is a list of surprises, and so is my life—under the counterculture. I’m sharing it with everybody.”
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