The Rock 'N Roll Activist That Inspired Ben & Jerry's Retired Wavy Gravy

Many product releases spring from corporate research or market projections, but Ben & Jerry's tends to do things a little differently. How the company names its ongoing array of ice cream flavors is no surprise, given the unconventional methods of founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. As the story goes, the two accidental entrepreneurs got a deep dive into the world of ice cream through a $5 correspondence course, then, in 1978, became "two guys and an ice cream business," operating from a repurposed gas station in Vermont. Ben eventually started delivering prepackaged pints in his old Volkswagen Squareback. Eight years later, the company launched its first cross-country road trip, doling out free ice cream scoops from the Cowmobile, a converted mobile home. Some small-time entrepreneurs would have thrown in the towel when the Cowmobile burned to the ground in Ohio — but not these two.

Instead, the very next year, 1987, brought their first rock n' roll-themed ice cream: the Cherry Garcia, named after Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead. Any B&J devotee recognizes the flavor as an enduring presence in grocery stores and scoop shops to this day. But the next brush between rock music and ice cream happened by chance in 1993, leading to the Wavy Gravy flavor and what the company calls its "cult classic" status. The name screams 1960s nostalgia, but it's not just a groovy moniker pulled from the retro hat of Ben or Jerry — it's an actual person. Meet Wavy Gravy.

From Woodstock to ice cream

New York's Woodstock festival in 1969 introduced the world at large to Wavy Gravy, a counterculture activist and emcee of the now-infamous festival attended by an estimated half a million people, per Bethel Woods Center of the Arts. The coffee-making poet and painter once ran the Bohemian-style Café on the Square in San Francisco, reciting beat poetry aloud under his given name, Hugh Romney, according to Seacoastonline. He also had a poetry and performance run at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village, sharing an upstairs room with Bob Dylan, per the Wavy Gravy website — until his manager, famous comedian Lenny Bruce, coaxed him back to the West Coast.

He became a household name a few years later as Master of Ceremonies at Woodstock. Shortly after, that name morphed into Wavy Gravy, a nickname given by blues-music legend BB King. Who knew that he'd also have a chance encounter decades later with the now-famous ice cream maven, Ben Cohen, leading to the Wavy Gravy ice cream featuring caramel, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnut fudge, and roasted almonds? But it wasn't entirely by chance, explains Ben and Jerry's.

Saint in a clown suit

Cohen, known for his corporate activism, sought out Wavy Gravy after hearing him perform at a benefit for homeless children, proposing the collaborative ice cream flavor. On the Ben & Jerry's website, Wavy recounts the story of watching a Federal Express truck pull into his driveway with bomb-like smoking boxes, which turned out to be samples of Wavy Grave ice cream packed in dry ice. The limited-time flavor was a fan-favorite, with Ben & Jerry's claiming that every bite resurrected the spirit of Woodstock. After being retired to the Flavor Graveyard eight years later, it returned in 2005 after winning the fan-fueled Raise-a-Flavor contest.

Wavy continues both his activism and performance art well into his eighties, answering to titles such as "hippie icon, flower geezer, poet, activist, clown, and Temple of Accumulated Error," per his colorful "about" page. Once called a "saint in a clown suit," Wavy continues his legacy through two foundations, Camp Winnarainbow, a summer circus and performing arts camp for kids, and the Seva Foundation to reduce poverty through blindness prevention and treatment. As for his stint as an ice cream icon? Seacoastonline attributes one more self-describing moniker to Wavy Gravy: "former frozen dessert.”