Monday, March 23, 2009

The Saints Go Marching in Downtown Austin

This spring break week in Austin, the SXSW music, interactive and film festivals converged to make Austin an absolute epicenter of the creative arts. What a fabulous week! The city literally hummed.

My partner and I gravitated to the documentary films and took in as many of the offerings as we could at the festival. Notable among them was the premiere screening of "Saint Misbehavin', The Wavy Gravy Movie," produced and directed by Californian, Michelle Esrick. Making the film was a 10-year project for Esrick, and her commitment has achieved a first-rate visual biography of the 60's icon, interspersing recent interviews with footage from Wavy Gravy's Woodstock and Hog Farm bus tour days, including remarkable scenes from the group's trek across Europe through the Middle East and Asia in 1970.

Wavy Gravy's evolving persona as poet, storyteller, merry prankster, jester and clown reveals a deeply spiritual and resourceful man who has used his gifts of humor and wit in dangerously charged situations to defuse tension, prevent violence, turn the tables and achieve positive, constructive outcomes. Through his own stories, recollections from his closest family and friends and accompanying film vignettes that show Wavy Gravy in action, we are shown how nonviolence actually works. And, in typical Wavy Gravy fashion, he transforms even this kind of work into play. His long-time projects involve teaching children nonviolence, meditation and performance techniques (at his legendary Camp Winnarainbow in Northern California), and supplying medical services to restore vision to cataract patients in underserved parts of the world (through the SEVA Foundation he co-founded 30 years ago with several colleagues, including his wife, Jahanara Romney and his good friends, Ram Dass and Dr. Larry Brilliant, who are also featured in the film).

My partner and I attended the Saint Misbehavin' premiere on the first Saturday of the SXSW film festival and were so taken with the story that we returned for the final showing the following Saturday with a friend who was in town to visit. Wavy Gravy was present at each venue, answering questions with characteristic aplomb.

And the compassionate clown gave Austin even more. Earlier in the day of his final film showing, Wavy Gravy became the somewhat impromptu grand marshal of the Million Musician March for Peace that marked the 6th anniversary of the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. Organized by the local musicians' group, Instruments for Peace, the march was a colorful, family-oriented New Orleans-style parade led by musicians through downtown Austin, past SXSW venues, beginning at the Texas state capitol and winding up at Austin's City Hall plaza for a concert where some of Austin's finest musicians performed for the marchers.

At the head of the parade, Wavy Gravy and Michelle Esrick were ensconced in a festively decorated pedicab, the perfect peace convoy, leading us in tye-dyed, bubble-blowing style.

We CodePink folks were also on hand with eye-catching fuzzy peace signs made by our own Heidi Turpin. Heidi presented Wavy Gravy with one of the multi-colored peace signs that matched his attire to a T.

I hope Michelle Esrick's fine film is distributed and reaches a wide audience. If its warm reception in Austin is an indication, the film will indeed carry the Wavy Gravy message forward: Put your good where it will do the most. Then, you will have fun doing it!
photos by makingpeace and Jeff Webster

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