Wavy Gravy: Activist, Clown

“What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000,” said Wavy Gravy to the Woodstock attendees.   This statement exemplifies the service and comical spirit of the man.

Believe it or not, Wavy was the “official clown” of the Grateful Dead.   He appeared on-stage with them several times.

He continues to be a clown, activist, teacher of the arts, and, I guess you could say, one of the living icons of Woodstock and the hippie spirit.

Wavy Gravy was born Hugh Nanton Romney on May 15, 1936.   In 1965, he married actress and former Bob Dylan girlfriend Bonnie Beecher in 1965.  They are still together today.

The Hog Farm

Wavy is the most celebrated member of the Hog Farm, who some consider being the oldest running hippie commune in the United States.  The Hog Farm originated on a collective hog farm in Tujunga, California, but it moved around to New York, Berkeley, and then to the Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, California where it resides today. They also stayed for a time at their Llano, New Mexico site.

Hog Farm used to host the annual Pignic, which has been superseded other events in Laytonville like The Earthdance Festival.

Some say that if the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Weather Underground were the most politically radical groups of the counterculture, the Hog Farm must have been the comic relief.  Wavy Gravy has, in fact, been a professional clown for most of his adult life.  He conducts summer camps training others to be clowns.

Woodstock Festival

While the Hog Farmers were in New York they were recruited by the Woodstock Festival organizers to build fire pits and trails at the festival site.  Wavy Gravy and his comrades asked for and got permission to provide a free kitchen, too.  Wavy Gravy and his commune buddies also helped man the “freak-out” tent for people suffering bad acid trips from some of the sketchy drugs available at the festival.  They saved several lives.

Most likely because of their role at the 1968 Democratic Convention protests (see my Chicago 7 article), they were, just a short time before the opening, asked to provide the ‘in-house’ security for Woodstock.  Gravy named his security force the “Please Force,” because they would ask people to ‘please’ do this or that, instead of ordering them.  A reporter asked him what tools his men would carry.  Always the clown, he answered, “Cream pies and seltzer bottles.”

Just a couple of weeks after Woodstock, the Hog Farmers were called upon to helped keep the peace between the cowboys and the hippies at the Texas International Pop Festival in Lewisville just north of Dallas. It was at this festival that renown blues legend B. B. King gave Romney the name Wavy Gravy.

The Medicine Ball Caravan

Today, Wavy Gravy works with his international development organization Seva Foundation, which is dedicated to ending poverty around the world.

Wavy also traveled to India and Pakistan with several hippies and doctors.  They traveled by bus.  They called their trip The Medicine Ball Caravan.  They provided medical supplies and food to victims of a cyclone in Eastern Pakistan.  Later the group moved on to India where they were instrumental in a campaign that eradicated Small Pox.

There were several celebrations of Wavy’s 80th birthday in 2016.  Below is a clip from his party.

Wavy Gravy’s legacy continues.  He directs the Camp Winnarainbow (a circus and performing arts camp) in Laytonville, California.  Each year the camp puts on Camp Winnarainbow Adult Camp, which would make an outstanding vacation for those interested in learning more about making people laugh.

Also see:

40 page biography written for the occasion of Wavy Gravy’s 70th birthday, by Edward Sanders.

Saint Misbehavin: The Wavy Gravy Movie


By Chowning

Richard Chowning was a teenager during the 60s. Being a Southern California resident during those years, he experienced many of the events and trends that distinguished those times.

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