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Wavy Gravy goes hog wild in Petaluma

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Dark Star Orchestra with Wavy Gravy

When: Wednesday, June 27, at 8:00 p.m.

Where: Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: $75 (VIP), $50 general

Tickets: Call (707) 775-6048 or visit MysticTheatre.com.

“Ken Kesey once told me, ‘Always put your good where it will do the most,’?” says Wavy Gravy (aka Hugh Romney), the clown prince of the counterculture. “That’s such good advice - that’s a Kesey line I often pass along. It has propelled me whenever it gets tough to just do good, and it envelopes you and aims you toward the next good thing.”

Wavy Gravy’s next good thing is a stint hosting a benefit concert for SEVA, the Berkeley-based nonprofit founded in 1978 by a group of medical professionals, counterculture activists, musicians and compassionate individuals, all dedicated to helping others through the prevention of blindness.

The concert at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, will feature the Dark Star Orchestra, seven musicians known for their meticulous recreations of entire Grateful Dead set lists.

For the uninitiated, Wavy Gravy is a poet, stand-up comic, improvisational theater artist (who performs in full clown regalia), psychedelic bus-caravan luminary and philanthropist, with deep roots in the 1960s counterculture. His moniker was given to him by blues great B.B. King. Probably best known as the emcee of the original Woodstock Festival, Wavy Gravy can be seen in the 1970 film “Woodstock” standing at a mic on stage, looking out over the sea of college kids and hippies, and declaring, “Good morning, what we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.”

He has connections to both the Beat-era writers and seminal hippies through his ties to the Merry Pranksters, a psychedelicized troupe that in 1964 traveled around the country in a day-glow–painted school bus owned by author Ken Kesey. The troupe’s exploits and use of mind-altering substances were chronicled by the late journalist Tom Wolfe in his book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

Wavy Gravy also was part of the Hog Farm, a hilltop commune in Davenport, north of Santa Cruz. In 1968, the Hog Farm became famous for running one of the commune’s actual hogs for president (the story of Pigasus was covered in Time and Newsweek) and later for providing food and security at Woodstock.

He and his wife of 50 years, Jahanara, operate Camp Winnarainbow, a circus-performance retreat for impoverished children. The camp, in Laytonville, California, serves 700 children a year in groups of 150. For eight years, beginning in 1993, much of the camp’s funding was derived from royalties from a Ben & Jerry’s rainforest-nut ice cream flavor named after Wavy Gravy. “We raised $30,000 a year to use for camp scholarships for economically challenged families,” he says, during a phone call from the camp. “While Ben & Jerry’s no longer produces the Wavy Gravy flavor, the company does donate 1,000 pints of ice cream to sell at the Kate Wolfe Folk Festival, with the proceeds going to Camp Winnarainbow scholarships.

“Ben & Jerry’s has been very, very good to me,” he says.

But, at 82, SEVA clearly is the thing of which he is most proud.

The organization takes its name from the Hindu principle of selfless service. Nicole Grasset, a World Health Organization official who had been treating smallpox victims in India, started talking to Wavy Gravy 40 years ago about the urgent need in third-world countries to curb the epidemic of curable blindness brought on by cataracts. With a small grant from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Wavy Gravy and Grasset enlisted Ram Dass, Dr. Larry Brilliant, members of the Grateful Dead and some of the other smallpox aid workers.

“Eighty percent of people in the world who suffer blindness can be cured with a simple operation,” Wavy Gravy explains. “Over the years, we’ve helped 5 million people who no longer have to bump into s--t. That’s 5 million people who are no longer blind. That’s where the proceeds go - every dime.”

Since the late Indian ophthalmologist and SEVA board member Govindappa Venkataswamy converted an eight-bed clinic into a full-scale hospital in Madurai, SEVA has opened eight additional hospitals.

“His dream was to have eye-care as accessible as McDonald’s,” Wavy Gravy says. “I told him, stop with the McDonald’s analogy. Chill it with the Big Mac. But he was a wonderful man. Sorely missed.”

SEVA, Wavy Gravy says, is an example of how one person can make a difference in the world, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

“If one person inspires another person who inspires another person who inspires another person, pretty soon you have a movement,” he muses. “I’m optimistic. There are a lot of positive things going on.

“And, hey, I’m just happy to be part of the dance.”

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Dark Star Orchestra with Wavy Gravy

When: Wednesday, June 27, at 8:00 p.m.

Where: Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Blvd.

Admission: $75 (VIP), $50 general

Tickets: Call (707) 775-6048 or visit MysticTheatre.com.

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