Cowboy Crossroads explores the genre’s ongoing evolution—and initiates newcomers—through its interview-driven episodes. Each approximately half-hour segment features a special guest, usually an artist. In the first eight episodes, Hedges has chatted with the cowboy poets Ross Knox and Waddie Mitchell, and the musicians Michael Martin Murphey, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Noel McKay. Upcoming episodes will include the singer-songwriter Martha Scanlon, and Dom Flemons, the founder of the band Carolina Chocolate Drops, who is currently recording an album of songs by and about black cowboys.
Influenced by the alt-country musician Otis Gibbs’s popular podcast Thanks for Giving a Damn, Hedges says that as a host he aims to start the conversation, not steer it. Too often on podcasts, he says, the interviewer “seems to have an agenda,” ushering guests down a predetermined lane. But Hedges isn’t a journalist—he’s a fan and, often, a friend. He’s not looking for the story; he’s looking for any story. This gather-round attitude—and Hedges’s basic love for storytelling—is part of the Cowboy Crossroads charm, part of what makes these episodes feel so intimate and relaxed. “I let them take it whatever direction they want,” he says of his guests. “I don’t feel there’s very many opportunities for that.”
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These aren’t your silent, stoic Hollywood cowboys. Because Hedges shares such a rapport with his guests, it frequently takes just two or three questions to fill a whole episode with story. In the first two installments, for example, Mitchell meanders from talking about his life as a buckaroo to eating the flesh of a maggot-infested cow to co-founding the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to his multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with “a feller named Johnny Carson,” whom he’d never heard of before his invite, having lived so remotely in northeast Nevada. “I see my job as trying to capture those stories and present them to people and try to stay out of the way as much as I can,” Hedges says.
In one episode, Murphey, a multiple Grammy nominee, discusses his love for authentic cowboy music and his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement in Dallas. In another, the cowboy poet Knox talks about packing mules in the Grand Canyon for 16 years—“when things go bad, they go really bad,” he says—and writing music with the Canadian songwriter Ian Tyson. And the folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who inspired everyone from Bob Dylan to Mick Jagger, well—he rambles, drifting from his Brooklyn childhood to his European tour with Woody Guthrie.
As a host, Hedges takes an intentionally laissez faire approach. Beyond his introduction, he surfaces only to narrate the segues between his guests’ shifting memories, or occasionally to pose a quiet follow-up question off mic (the latter a reminder that the podcast is as of yet unsponsored—a labor of love—and Hedges is still refining his craft). But these initial remarks are crucial to the western aesthetic of the podcast. Compared to, say, Terry Gross’s formulaic biographical notes on NPR’s Fresh Air, Hedges’s preludes feel more personal and meticulously crafted. He often tells heartfelt stories detailing his own relationship to the guests—how he met them, what he admires, how they cemented their status in cowboy culture.