Wavy Gravy Beat Ben & Jerry to Kennebunkport in 1958
The Master of Ceremonies at the 1969 Woodstock music festival, who is responsible for the famous quote “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000″ and for whom a nutty Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor was named, spent the summer of 1958 entertaining the beat generation in Dock Square.
Wavy Gravy, a nickname later given to him by bluesman B.B. King, was still using his birth name, Hugh Romney in July of 1958 when Sandy Brook, the new proprietor of the Kennebunk Star wrote “The latest invasion from the outer Bohemia of San Francisco, New York, and Boston is the Café on the Square. Here one may purchase espresso coffee and exotic iced drinks while soaking up the atmosphere which consists of abstract paintings, candles in Chianti bottles, and checkered tablecloths.” Hugh and his friend Jon read their own poems. Sandy Brook was impressed enough with their poetry to publish a booklet of it that summer called ‘Kaleidoscope’.
I had the unique pleasure to speak to 60’s icon Wavy Gravy about his summer in Kennebunkport. He remembered it well. Hugh Romney and Jon Adams were both attending BU Theatre School on the GI bill. Hugh had read about the Beat Jazz-Poetry cafes on the west coast and suggested to his friend that they try something similar on the east coast during their summer break. The two young men, with military discharge money burning holes in their pockets, hitchhiked to Old Orchard Beach hoping to get some advice from an old friend of Jon’s. They arrived late at night and after a short visit they walked all the way to Kennebunkport. Romney and Adams wandered into Dock Square in the wee hours and ended up falling asleep in a little vacant building across from Weinstein’s. A few hours later Mr. Weinstein woke them up to encourage them to move along. The young men asked if the little building was for rent. Mr. Weinstein was surprised when after giving the boys a price for the whole summer they reached into their pockets and pulled out the full amount. Their landlord left with his money and Hugh and Jon went back to sleep. When they awoke again the first of many young faces was pressed against the window initiating what would be a successful enterprise for the hard-working entrepreneurs.
In an interview in High Times, Hugh also remembered that Kennebunkport people said, “They can’t be just selling coffee for .25 cents a cup – they must be selling dope to the teenagers.” But in fact, it was Kennebunkport teenagers that supplied the pot in the first joint Wavy Gravy ever smoked. At first, Hugh was horrified that his bongo player was smoking marijuana, but he eventually succumbed one night in Kennebunkport.
At the end of the summer of 1958, Hugh Romney got a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. As poetry director and performer at the famous Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village Hugh was at the convergence of the Beat, Folk, and Hippy movements until his manager, comedy legend Lenny Bruce, asked him to move to the west coast in 1962.
Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead once referred to Wavy Gravy as a saint for his philanthropic work with the SEVA Foundation, an organization that supports health, education, and sustainable community development around the world. Wavy, who has described himself simply as “an activist, clown, and former frozen dessert,” responded “Saint Misbehavin, maybe.”
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