Wavy Gravy managed the career of Lenny Bruce and befriended Bob Dylan not long after the young folk singer moved to New York, but the tie-dye-loving counterculture clown remains best known for MCing the original Woodstock music festival. Nearly 50 years later, he'll spend his 79th birthday hosting another concert: raising funds for earthquake relief in Nepal.
The event, which features Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Steve Kimcock, the California Honeydrops and Hot Buttered Rum, will raise money for Seva, an organization Gravy co-founded in 1978.
"A lot of organizations work from the top down," the activist tells Rolling Stone. "Seva likes to work from the bottom up. I'm so honored and thrilled to even be even a small part of this."
On April 25th, Nepal was rocked by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people and injured nearly 20,000 more. Seva's primary mission involves helping cure and prevent blindness, but its network of clinics and hospitals was able to provide immediate relief. The non-profit's workers have distributed more than 7,000 units containing tents, blankets and food, and the organization has received more than $500,000 in donations to further recovery efforts.
"Everybody who's contributed to us over the last few years knows that we put our good where it'll do the most," Gravy says. "Which is a line I got from [Ken] Kesey: Put your good where it will do the most."
Gravy co-founded Seva in 1978 with Dr. Larry Brilliant, Dr. Nicole Grasset, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy and spiritual teacher Ram Dass. They developed a sight program that made eye surgery affordable to people all over the world, and their earliest backers included Steve Jobs and concert promoter Bill Graham. "Jerry Garcia is playing and I'm backstage toking up," recalls Gravy. "Here comes Bill, and he slips me a note and I think, 'Uh oh!' It's a check for Seva for $10,000."
The birthday benefit will be held on May 17th, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Sonoma Mountain Event Center, Sonoma County's only outdoor venue fully powered by solar energy. General admission tickets cost $50 with $15 tickets available for children aged six to 13 and free attendance for kids under six. VIP tickets, which include admission to a private after-party, cost $150. There will also be a silent auction featuring Nepalese art.
If the event goes down anything like Woodstock, it might have a number of unforeseen ramifications. "The hippies had never seen granola before," Gravy says, going back to the 1969 festival. "We put it in Dixie cups and they said, 'What is this shit? Gravel?' But they ate it and they liked it. I think the granola manufactures of the world owe us enormous credit."
Visit the Seva page for more info.