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Published: 2006/06/20
by Alan Sheckter

SEVA Benefit, Wavy Gravy’s 70th Birthday Celebration, Berkeley Community Theater- 5/20

Wavy Gravy at 70 – still dedicated to humor and humanity

The city of Berkeley threw a big party on May 20 celebrating the 70th birthday of Wavy Gravy, a man known for his tie-dye garb and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor but beloved for much deeper reasons.

Wavy (real name Hugh Romney), a psychedelic relic in clown shoes who’s spent quality time with everyone from Albert Einstein to Ken Kesey to Al Gore, is a board member for SEVA, a benevolent organization devoted to preventing blindness and co-director of Camp Winnarainbow, a Children’s performing arts program in Northern California.

Saturday’s 5 1/2-hour celebration, a concert at the 3,500-seat Berkeley Community Theatre, was a benefit for SEVA (a sanskrit word meaning “service”).

Wavy, who acted as emcee, birthday boy and storyteller, thanked the audience at one point saying, “Every seat in here is the equivalent of a cataract surgery. People in India, Nepal and Tanzania aren’t bumping into shit because of you.”

The evening’s first 2 -hour segment consisted of a brief spoken word and drums segment by American Indian activists Dennis Banks and Floyd Red Crow Westerman, stilt-walkers from the Prescott Circus, an after-school program for Oakland youth, and short sets from the sweet-voiced Linda Tillery – who sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” – brilliant slide guitarist David Lindley, acoustic alt-country artist Gillian Welch, representing what she called “the hillbilly contingent” and political singer-songwriter Steve Earle.

Welch’s rendition of the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” which resulted in a standing ovation, especially endeared her to the Berkeley audience.

After intermission, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates presented Wavy with the key to the city and a proclamation calling it “Wavy Gravy Week” in the city of Berkeley.

Next, in a fascinating fusion of 60s spirit and 2006 technology, a “This is Your Life” segment, thanks to a Google Earth Pro-driven voyage across the world on a giant screen, covered red-letter moments in Wavy’s life.

The concert’s second half consisted of sets piloted by former Grateful Dead members Mickey Hart and Bob Weir. Hart, along with Tillery, Les Claypool (of Primus fame) and new-age legend Kitaro, led a tribal yet ethereal piece, which segued into “Iko Iko.” Joan Baez appeared, smiling broadly and dancing about like a barefooted dervish and dozens of percussionists then serenaded Wavy as belly dancers hovered around him.

Eventually, Weir’s group, Ratdog, took over, offering a healthy set of Dead songs as well as “Little Darlin’, a doo-wop hit in the 50s, with Baez surfacing again to sing the “la-la-la-las.”

Ratdog’s rocking set, which included “Cassidy,” “Bird Song,” “The Wheel,” “Attics of My Life” and the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” closed with the appropriate “One More Saturday Night.”

Wavy once again appeared, this time with a large clock to point out it was no longer Saturday night, but Sunday morning, and to thank everyone for the SEVA birthday party. Some 15 musicians then came on to bid the audience adieu with a fine rendition of “Not Fade Away.”

Alan Sheckter is a longtime dead head and photojournalist and is entertainment editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record in California.

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