Wavy Gravy celebrates 79th birthday in style

More than 2,000 people turned out Sunday to help hippie icon Wavy Gravy celebrate his birthday at a concert at Sonoma Mountain Village. 'I feel like a teenage yodel,' he said.|

Sixties hippie icon Wavy Gravy has done a lot in his 79 years on the planet.

The cosmic comedian hung out with Beat generation poets, took the stage at Woodstock and partied with the Grateful Dead. He also founded a nonprofit group to treat blindness and opened a circus camp for underprivileged children.

Somewhere along the way, he had an ice cream named after him.

So how’s he doing at the end of his eighth decade?

“I feel like a teenage yodel,” he said in his characteristic wacky style during a birthday celebration and Nepal earthquake benefit concert Sunday in Rohnert Park. “Except I don’t do stand-up anymore. I do sit-down.”

True to form, the onetime stand-up comic relaxed on stage in a comfy chair during the combination show at Sonoma Mountain Village, which organizers said drew up to 2,700 people.

Between musical sets from groups including Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and the Honeydrops, the tie-dyed septuagenarian plugged a silent art auction to benefit quake victims and held forth on a number of topics, including how the late bluesman B.B. King came up with his name back in 1969.

According to lore, Wavy was lying on a stage in Texas, trying to get concertgoers to put their clothes back on, when King came on, looked down and gave him his moniker.

“He looked down at me and said, ‘You’re wavy gravy,’” he told the audience. “And I said ‘yes sir.’”

Backstage, Wavy, born Hugh Romney in 1936, said he was glad to devote some of the proceeds from his previously scheduled birthday bash to people suffering in Nepal. Organizers retooled the show after the April 25 temblor that killed more than 8,000 people.

Wavy’s blindness prevention group, Seva Foundation, was also expected to benefit.

“This is an opportunity to party down and pay up,” he said before being helped to his feet by two roadies.

The mixed crowd of aging hippies and young people did a little of both. Paying $50 a head, they listened to an eclectic mix of bands, sipped beer and wine and ate organic barbecue.

Thick pot smoke wafted through the crowd as people got to their feet and danced. Corinne Olson, 25, of Valley Springs, toked a joint as she swayed to the music, a hula-hoop spinning around her waist.

“He’s pretty freaky,” said Olson, who drove from the foothills town with friends. “I like freaks.”

Longtime Santa Rosa attorney Scott Murray took in the scene as he sat on the grass with his adult daughter, Micheala. He lauded Wavy for taking the spirit and compassion of the 1960s and using it for good.

“He lived it and put it to work to help people,” Murray said. “Seems to me it’s a hippie’s dream.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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