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the Romney Mitt never talks about

May 29, 2013

Wavy Gravy, like Chip Monck (see below), was another behind-the-scenes person at Woodstock who had quite an effect on the festival.  He was born in 1936 as Hugh Nanton Romney.  As a child, he took walks with Albert Einstein.  After 22 months in the Army, Romney used his G.I. Bill to attend theatre classes at Boston University, then moved to New York City.

He shared an apartment in Greenwich Village with singer Tom Paxton.  He made friends with fellow newcomer Bob Dylan.  Through Dylan, Romney met his future wife Bonnie Beecher.  She knew Dylan from his Minnesota days, and is possibly the inspiration for his song “The Girl from the North Country”.  They’ve been married since 1965 and have one son Jordan, who was born Howdy Do-Good Gravy Tomahawk Truckstop Romney.

Hugh started performing and caught the eye of legendary Lenny Bruce, who became his manager.  Bruce moved him to L.A. in 1962, where Romney once opened for Thelonius Monk.  He eventually took a job at Columbia Pictures, teaching improv skills.  Bonnie landed parts in The Twilight Zone, Peyton Place, The Fugitive, The Invaders, Gunsmoke and Star Trek.

When Merry Prankster Ken Babbs stole the Pranksters’ bus “Further” and fled to Mexico, many members of the stranded group stayed with Romney, causing him to be evicted.  He moved to a hog farm.  The Pranksters and a lot of others followed him.  Romney said that was the start of “a bizarre communal experiment” where the people began to outnumber the pigs.

By 1966, the bizarre experiment had slouched toward a collective called, oddly, the Hog Farm, and was doing light shows for acts like Jimi Hendrix, Cream and the Grateful Dead.  Romney became the official clown of the Dead.  The next year, the group started touring the U.S. in school buses purchased with money some members had made as extras in a movie.  In 1969, the Farm was asked to help with crowd control at Woodstock.  Romney named the effort the “Please Force”, as in “please don’t do that, do this instead”.

When asked by reporters how he planned to maintain calm, he jokingly replied “with cream pies and seltzer bottles”.  The Farm also helped feed the multitude.  Romney is shown in Woodstock announcing “what we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000”.

A few weeks later at the Texas International Pop Festival, he was lying onstage when B.B. King was announced.  As Romney started to get out of the way, King put his hand on his shoulder and asked him if he was wavy gravy.  He said “yes” and King said “it’s OK, I can work around you”.  Romney regarded this as a mystical happening, and legally changed his name to Wavy Gravy.  He says the moniker has “worked pretty well through my life, except with telephone operators — I have to say ‘Gravy, first initial W'”.

He’s still squirting seltzer at age 77.  He’s on the board of directors of the Seva Foundation, a non-profit world health group he co-founded that has helped restore eyesight for 3 million people.  He and his wife started and run Camp Winnarainbow, a circus and performing arts camp, on a northern Californian farm it shares with the Hog Farm.  For awhile, camp scholarships for underprivileged kids were paid for by sales of Ben and Jerry’s “Wavy Gravy” flavour.  The carton had a tie-dyed motif.  Wavy is known for his love of all things tie-dyed, including a set of his false teeth.




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