It’s an album title, a cassette cover, a mural, and a tourism franchise that promotes Austin through everything from coffee cups to onesies. Now the iconic mural at 21st and Guadalupe streets—you know, the one with the frog that says “Hi, How Are You?”—is also the inspiration for the city’s first “Hi, How Are You?” Day, with a “mission to inspire new and different conversation around mental well-being,” according to the organizers.
The foundation hopes to Austinites will recognize the day—today, Jan. 22, is the inaugural date—as an opportunity to check in with friends and others, asking “Hi, how are you?” in a way that invites more than a superficial answer and offers real listening and help with struggles a person might be having.
The day’s inspiration and now-iconic mural started as a drawing and cassette album cover by former Austinite and 1990s indie rock poster child/cautionary tale Daniel Johnston that helped make him a cult-famous musician and artist when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt with the image on it to the 1992 MTV Music Awards. That year, Sound Exchange record store (also iconic, though defunct) commissioned Johnston to paint it on the side of the store. After several defacements and restorations, as well as negotiations with subsequent business owners of the building and countless reproductions on everything from coffee mugs to onesies, it has become a mainstay of the Austin tourism franchise, but its origin has been lost on many visitors and newcomers.
The “Hi, How Are You?” Foundation’s “celebration of music, art, and mental well-being” should help reestablish the connection to the original artist—whose struggle with mental-health issues became public in tandem with his fame—with tonight’s Celebration of Music, Art & Mental Well-Being at Mohawk, which the SIMS Foundation and ATX Music & Entertainment Division join the club and the foundation in presenting. (It also happens to be Johnston’s birthday.)
The event will feature musical performances by Kathy McCarty, the Moving Panoramas with KUTX’s Laurie Gallardo, Will Courtney, Jane Ellen Bryant, Jonathan Terrell, Josh T. Pierson, Cowboy Diplomacy, and surprise guests to perform originals and covers of Johnston’s songs. There will also be art by Daniel Johnston, David Thornberry, Jason Archer, Miguel Rangel, and Matthew Rodriguez on display.
Will those “surprise guests” include Johnston himself? Johnston told the Austin Chronicle’s Kevin Curtain recently that “[i]f they’re having a get-together in my honor, then I think I should play a few songs when the crowd’s there.”
Meanwhile a Facebook post from Kathy McCarty—a longtime Austin musician who famously recorded an album of Daniel Johnston songs, starred in a musical featuring same, and just generally has worked with and known Johnston since his debut, seems to indicate that he will, indeed, be at Mohawk tonight to play a few songs.