The Basement Vapes, Volume 19: The Conspiracy Stomp—Wasn’t That A Time!

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers asks the burning question: Does anyone know anyone who knows anything about the Conspiracy Stomp?

I have one piece of original poster art framed in my home. The poster was created to publicize an event that occurred on November 29, 1969 to benefit the Chicago Eight, who were put on trial for conspiracy after the infamous police riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Since the Democrats are bringing their convention back to Chicago in anticipation of the 2024 presidential election, it feels like the right time to look back and see what actually occurred at this purported happening. 

So, what do we know? According to the poster, a $4 donation was encouraged, with “all money [going] to the conspiracy.” The event was held at the mighty Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on the corner of Broadway and Lawrence. The Aragon was built in the 1920s, and they still have concerts there today.

You should notice that Wavy Gravy’s name is above the title. Wavy Gravy (born Hugh Romney) was the organizer, along with his fellow commune members from the Hog Farm, which itself was an offshoot of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Just three months before the Stomp, Wavy was filmed and subsequently immortalized in the Woodstock movie as the guy onstage who announced that they were going to serve breakfast in bed for 400,000 people. In the years since, Wavy majestically morphed into the clown prince of the hippies, and he has remained a benevolent representative of said counterculture for his entire life.

Directly beneath the title, The Conspiracy Stomp: A Benefit For The Chicago Eight, is the joyful depiction of a happy hippie couple boogieing away. This color illustration, which looks like it was lifted from the pages of Zap Comix, was actually original artwork created and donated to the Stomp organizers by now-famous cartoonist Robert Crumb.

Before mentioning other noteworthy folks who stomped for the defendants, let’s acknowledge the event was devoted to the “Chicago Eight” and not yet narrowed down to the “Chicago Seven.” That was because Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale was originally part of the group charged with conspiracy. He’s the one remembered in the Graham Nash song “Chicago.” As the song goes, Seale was repeatedly bound and gagged (and beaten) when protesting his role in the trial while being denied counsel of his choosing until they finally separated his prosecution from the other seven co-defendants, whom he barely knew.

According to Wavy Gravy, Yippie activists Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner definitely stopped by on the night of the Stomp. Hoffman, who was one of the defendants, became one of the more famous personalities involved in the trial. Krassner wasn’t a defendant, but he was an important member of the Youth International Party’s inner circle, and he testified at the trial two months after the Stomp. Unfortunately, Krassner made the inadvisable decision to drop acid for his court appearance and testimony, which did not go well.

Phil Ochs was an outspoken protest/folk singer and Yippie insider who also testified at the trial not long after the Stomp, albeit not on acid. Ochs had performed at Grant Park during the 1968 convention and witnessed some of the violence Chicago police unleashed on the protesters. It was a busy year for Ochs, but he was clearly committed to the Stomp’s cause. 

Other contemporary artists advertised included pop folkie Chad Mitchell and influential Chicago folk singer Bob Gibson. And how about the enticing promise of the cast of Hair? Not altogether surprising since the touring Hair musical was playing in Chicago at the Schubert and Blackstone theaters that fall and winter season. The Silver Apples, a proto-electronic duo of the time, was also listed as a featured act, but there’s no telling if any of these performers really showed up on the night in question.

Perhaps the most curious attraction described at the bottom of the poster is the inclusion of “Fifty Live Turkeys,” which apparently did indeed occur. According to Wavy Gravy, he simply borrowed the turkeys for the Friday event, which was, of course, just after Thanksgiving. I spoke to Wavy, and he vaguely recalled; 

“[That was] the one where we had 50 turkeys and the strobe lights—it was fantastic. I put it together. They weighed [the turkeys] before we took them into town, and they weighed them when I brought them back, and I had to pay for shrinkage.”

Unfortunately, Wavy couldn’t provide any further details regarding the benefit. So, after our exchange I began asking around to see if anyone else may have remembered anything else that actually happened at the Conspiracy Stomp. 

It must be noted that the mainstream media of the late 1960s were not at all supportive of the “radical” anti-war agenda and predictably ignored the benefit event so as not to glamorize the counterculture in any way. Hence, a historical record of the Stomp was not to be found in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times or the Chicago Daily News

My best bet was Abe Peck, an esteemed writer, author, historian and professor who was also a key editor of the Chicago Seed in the late 1960s. Peck told me the poster ad image was reprinted on the back cover of an issue of the Seed, which was a prominent underground newspaper at that time. He also said there were several local acts not listed who performed at the Stomp. Alas, Peck did not recall the names of those uncredited local performers.

We really don’t know who showed up that night and who didn’t. But I can tell you that it was comedian Charlie Fleischer who (probably) said it first in 1982—and it turns out that the old axiom was true then and getting truer all the time; “If you remember the ‘60s, you really weren’t there.”

In his online blog, memoirist Andy Romanoff claimed to have attended the Conspiracy Stomp. He referenced the thrill of the music and the drugs mixed with fluttering turkeys and strobe lights—but couldn’t remember much more than that when I asked him. Of course, Andy literally “got on the bus” with Wavy and his Hog Farm affiliates after that magical evening, so who could blame him for being hazy on the specifics?

When queried, Justin O’Brien, author of Chicago Yippie! ’68 had to admit that while he believed he was probably at the Stomp, he really wasn’t sure if he was actually there or not—as all of the other cosmic Chicago nights from that special time in history have blended together in his memory. Oh well.

You can find an original copy of the Conspiracy Stomp poster and have it delivered to your home overnight, which is a lot easier than finding out what happened on that evening in Chicago so very long ago. In any case, “All Power To The People!”