Leadership in the time of Woodstock
For many years I've had a funny kind of hero on my list. My only interaction with him is being alive at the same time. But I think about his brand of lunatic logic and caring and goofy leadership and would like to emulate much of it. Not all. But much of it.
Hugh Nanton Romney Jr. What a name. A couple of years after Woodstock he was randomly renamed, by B.B. King no less, Wavy Gravy and so he shall ever be.
To nearly everyone he's just a clown. A core figure in the 60's counter culture he fronted a band of true hippies (as opposed to those of us buying expensive vests in Greenwich Village) called the "Hog Farm" who wandered the U.S. espousing comedy, doing skits and living back on the land. And he would have faded into the crazy 60s landscape but for a concert in Bethal, NY in 1969.
The documentary "Woodstock: Three days that defined a generation" now on Netflix filled in a lot of holes for me but I have known the story for decades. The concert promoters needed security for their weekend. They expected at most 150,000 people and they did their research. The many concerts that summer had all kinds of tear gas and baton kind of rules enforcement and that was not what they were looking for. Somehow they came up with the idea that Hugh Romney and his band of brothers and sisters could be 'security' and Hugh, goofy guy that he was said: "Sure". Long story short and back to my point of leadership, they got to the festival and started securing it.
Rather than create a festival 'Police Force', Hugh created a 'Please Force'. Here is a man that not only recognized his constituency but was one with them. Rather than say 'Don't do that' he appealed to the nature of the group, the culture, and the place by saying 'Please, don't do that'. His first amazing level of leadership. There were something like 400,000 people that Governor Rockefeller wanted to control with the National Guard and here was this group of the 'Hog Farm' cajoling rather than beating crowd into shape. It was 'hey, you know, we're all in this together.. can you help by just being a human being?'. Here is this bozo using the Socratic method of showing someone the better way, the right way, and believing that they would follow it.
And, of course, it was wildly successful. The Woodstock festival was notoriously peaceful.
Hugh's next point of extraordinary leadership was in the 'bad trip' tents and it was this lesson I've used for much of my life. Kids would come in having taken LSD for the first time in the sun with hundreds of thousands of people and loud chaotic music around them and they had kind of gone off the rails. Hugh taught his team to keep telling them that it would pass soon. It would wear off, just hang on. The kids would have someone holding their hands, giving them water, and treating them gently, nursing them back. This was the first half of the genius. The second half was once the kid was better and ready to head out he'd say 'hey, hang on, we need some help. See that kid over there, that was you three hours ago. How about giving him a hand and helping him through.' He recruited the patients back into humanity, allowing them to pay their dues with labor, giving them dignity while developing a regenerating force that allowed him to move onto the next major issue.
Just some goofy clown.
When I hear people talk down the hippies and the 60s and the drug generation I just smile think of Wavy Gravy, the Socratic Leader dopey ass clown who epitomized all of what I think is great about the culture of that era. Maybe not in the head pantheon of my heroes but he's got a stage all to himself.