Family, friends and fans of Daniel Johnston gathered in the Houston suburb of Katy on Saturday to pay respects to the renowned artist and songwriter, who died Sept. 11 at age 58.
After a 1 p.m. funeral at the Katy Church of Christ, a graveside service was held at Magnolia Cemetery, where Johnston will be laid to rest beneath a gravestone shared with his parents. His mother, Mabel Ruth, died in 2010; his father, William Dale, died in 2017.
Burial did not take place Saturday because of wet grounds from recent heavy rains, but about 100 mourners gathered under a tent for a short ceremony as friends and family members spoke about Johnston’s life, specifically the theme of hope that runs through much of his art and music. Before and after, some of Johnston’s songs played over a small PA system.
Many Austinites made the trip to Katy for the ceremony, including David Thornberry, a friend since their childhood days in West Virginia; Thornberry’s wife, Kathy McCarty, whose many recordings of Johnston’s songs helped bring his music to the world; and Brian Beattie, a former bandmate of McCarty who produced many recording sessions for Johnston. Others from Austin in attendance included Johnston’s manager, Tom Gimbel, and his former manager, Jeff Tartakov.
A memorial reception at the nearby Bowery House & Gardens followed, with a handful of musicians performing many of Johnston’s songs. McCarty, accompanied by Austin guitarist Jacob Schulze, began with “Like a Monkey in a Zoo” and “Living Life,” the latter of which played over the credits in Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic “Before Sunrise.” Her poignant rendition of “Story of an Artist,” a Johnston song that was featured in a major Apple ad last year, preceded an announcement that Tartakov is now her manager.
Jad Fair and Mark Kramer, who collaborated with Johnston on several recordings in the late 1980s and early 1990s in New York, followed with a short but moving set. Fair now lives in Austin; Kramer traveled from his Florida home. After Kramer’s a cappella rendition of the Irish folk tune “Danny Boy,” the two musicians performed “Some Things Last a Long Time,” a song from Johnston’s album “1990” that features lyrics by Fair and music by Johnston. At the song’s end, Fair went into an extended noise jam on his electric guitar that ended with him snapping the neck off the instrument.
Two musicians who’d played in a band with Johnston’s nephew, Matthew Richard Johnston, followed with the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” one of Daniel’s favorite songs, and Daniel’s own “Worried Shoes,” which they said has been Matthew’s favorite song of his uncle’s. (Matthew died in 2011 and is buried next to the gravestone for Daniel and his parents.)
Much of the reception was devoted to members of Houston company Catastrophic Theatre, which adapted many of Johnston’s songs into the musical production “Speeding Motorcycle” in 2006 and recently had revived it for a 2019 run. Fifteen singers and instrumentalists stepped up to deliver more than a dozen Johnston songs, including “Life in Vain,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances,” “Hey Joe” and “True Love Will Find You in the End.”
Along the back wall, dozens of Johnston’s cartoon drawings were displayed, along with photographs from all phases of his life and personal items such as his guitar and keyboard, favorite records and hand-decorated sneakers. Of particular note was a stunning black-and-white painting of Johnston that his friend Thornberry recently completed.
Gimbel confirmed Saturday that a Johnston tribute show in Austin has been set for Oct. 10 at the Mohawk, which was the site of Johnston’s last Austin performance on his birthday in 2018. A lineup has not yet been announced; Gimbel said the show will primarily feature local musicians. The timing — the Thursday before weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival — suggests the possibility of cameo appearances by a few festival acts.
WATCH: Highlights from Daniel Johnston birthday tribute at the Mohawk in 2018