how are you?
Contemporary folk heroes check in on Austin for Daniel Johnston-inspired benefit concert
Longtime Austinites may not recognize this place — we live in a city where many don't know what "Hi, how are you?" really means. It's not just politeness. It's an intentional call for human connection, thanks to the late and well-loved Austin musician Daniel Johnston.
Although he started by handing out tapes of his music at McDonald's in the '80s, Johnston was eventually recognized by the greater public and some very famous musicians, including Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, who wore the lesser-known performer's merch to the MTV Video Music Awards in 1993. NPR called Johnston a "musician's musician" in his obituary.
Johnston became famous for his simple songwriting that rang emotionally true, and a seemingly innocent approach. However, Johnston was as complicated as anyone, and lived with manic depressive schizophrenia. Johnston's memory is now honored via the Hi, How Are You Project (HHAYP), named after his most famous album and the accompanying art, which he later painted as a mural that is still (barely) standing despite neighborhood changes.
The project educates the public on mental health and works to destigmatize mental illness through check-ins like, "Hi, how are you?" Tickets to its annual benefit concert, Hi, How Are You Day 2024, concert are now for sale. This will be the concert's first year at the Paramount Theatre on January 21, 2024.
So far only two acts have been announced: Fleet Foxes songwriter and vocalist Robin Pecknold, and Appalachian singer-songwriter Valerie June. Pecknold has spoken candidly about his own mental health, and June, a certified yoga and mindfulness meditation instructor, released a workbook in 2023 to help guide introspection.
New for HHAYP is executive director Robert Sanchez of music marketing agency Group Therapy Studios. In addition to more corporate experience (Nintendo, Toyota), Sanchez has been part of the Austin Music Foundation as a member of the board of directors for five years. A release explains that this past experience is expected to "bring a new wave of musical and mental health collaboration and bring the conversation around mental well-being to broader audiences."
“It’s no surprise we find ourselves in the middle of a mental health crisis,” said Sanchez, as quoted in the release. “Between the pandemic, the economy, social media, geopolitical tensions, mass shootings, the opioid crisis, and the environment — coupled with a lack of treatment resources — it’s sadly expected that members of Gen Z are much more likely to report experiencing negative emotions like stress, anxiety and loneliness."
Although anyone can glean inspiration from such a simple motto, shared by treasured performers, this non-profit's target beneficiary is between the ages of 14 and 24.
He continued, "By providing young adults with tools to identify and mitigate/manage their negative feelings, we can reduce the number of times an ‘ember’ develops into a raging inferno, thus reducing the strain on our mental health professionals and improving the chances our children will lead healthier, happier lives."
The youth angle has been further explored in HHAYP's second annual Thriving College Students Index, which the ticket announcement previews before its release. It found that "82 percent of college students turn to music as a top way to support their mental well-being." More findings from the 25,000-student survey during 2023 are forthcoming; Last year's results arrived in January.
Tickets (starting at $39) are available at hihowareyou.org. All proceeds will benefit the Hi, How Are You Project.