Hippie Culture Just Keeps Truckin' On

The Grateful Dead are gone, the original Woodstock is ancient history, but the hippie movement just keeps truckin' on.

In one corner of New York's Central Park last weekend, it looked like 1969 never left, as the New York Rainbow held its local "Gathering of the Tribes," complete with a drum circle, incense, and 150-odd people sporting the shoeless, tie-dyed look that is synonymous with hippie culture.

"We're everywhere," Aron Kay, the "Yippie Pie Man," said with a grin as he listened to eight drummers pound out a syncopated rhythm.

"We're still everywhere."

Kay has been an activist and self-proclaimed hippie since the mid 1960s, and he says the movement is still alive and well.

Although most will admit hippies' ranks have thinned considerably since its 1960s and 1970s heyday, there are still thousands of flower children in America.

There are few hard statistics on the number of new and aging Aquarians, and estimates vary wildly.

As many as 50 million Americans are broadly sympathetic to hippie values, say Paul Ray, a business consultant, and Sherry Anderson, a psychologist, in their 2000 book The Cultural Creatives.

"I'd have to say it's somewhere down around 5 to 10 percent [of the general population]," says Albert Bates, a New York University Law School graduate who has lived at The Farm, a several-hundred-member commune in Tennessee, since 1972.

Tie-Dyed Diversity

The annual Rainbow Family of Light Gathering of the Tribes draws some 20,000 people for a weeklong backwoods celebration of '60s values.

This year's gathering is expected to draw fewer people, perhaps 15,000 total, due to the group's legal battles over the need for permits for the event. It is scheduled for the first week of July, somewhere in the Great Lakes Region.

Last week's New York Rainbow gathering was an offshoot of the main, national event.

Attendees come from every age group and diverse background, says Rob Savoye, a computer programmer, former Deadhead, and Rainbow Family Gathering regular.

"You would be amazed at the diversity," he says. "You'd meet all these young kids with dreadlocks in a drum circle with their dogs, but you could also meet vice presidents of finance."

"There's a small collection of graybeard types like us," he says, but most Rainbow-goers are under 25.

The Rainbow Gathering is not the only evidence of the modern America's tie-dyed diversity.

Hundreds of communes still operate around the United States, says Tim Miller, a sociologist at the University of Kansas. He estimates there are "hundreds of thousands or millions" of hippies in the country today.

The Hippy.com Web site identifies "hippie havens" in 39 states, including not just New York, Oregon and California, but also Alaska, Hawaii and Arkansas.

Tie-Dyed Diehards

For Savoye and many other original members of the 1960s counterculture, the values and attitudes of the period have never left.

The underground mores of the Beat Movement spread to young people across the country with the explosion of rock music, drugs, and the divisiveness of the Vietnam War, experts say.

Other elements such as the introduction of the birth-control pill, the civil rights movement, and the beginnings of the popular environmental movement contributed to the cultural shift.

"You had this convergence right at this point," says Bates.

The size of the Baby Boom generation that came of age in the 1960s and '70s also helped cement the place of hippies in American culture, he suggests.

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