Notable Missoula father invest in sons’ imagination

Andrew Hunt is known around town as “Cowboy Andy.” He’s the frontman for a fun-loving band called The Salamanders, whose songs, like “Pirate Santa” and “Matt Damon Magnetized Me,” have that special allure of simultaneously entertaining both kids and adults. 

One of the characteristics of the family-friendly songwriter is that he doesn’t dumb down his songs for kids. Hunt believes in children’s abilities to be creative and curious enough to enjoy new and often mysterious concepts. And he has a sense of how having fun and being goofy can be a perfect portal to tuning the mind, and vice versa.

Outside his persona of “Cowboy Andy,” Andrew is a dad, and his sensibility for what makes good all-ages music seeps deeply into his approach to fatherhood. Andrew’s 12-year-old son, Oscar, and 8-year-old son, Gus, are homeschooled by both he and his wife, Stacy. And one of the things the parents strive to do is let the boys’ curiosity about the world guide the learning process. 

“We have done cheese making, pottery, and toured different factories and farms,” Andrew said. “We let the kids lead. When they were younger we would go into almost every kitchen of a restaurant and just be like, ‘Hey! Whatcha doin’?’ so they could get a feel for how things worked there.”

Gus and Oscar are also encouraged to pursue all kinds of projects, and their most recent one is—of all things—a game show. 

Last year, during an MCT summer camp, Gus and Oscar set up a trivia game as part of a talent show. It was a rough-cut effort, but it ended up being a big hit. Afterward, Gus wanted to develop the idea into a real game show that would be shot in a studio and aired on television with the help of Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT). Gus would host and Oscar would write the questions and direct and their friends would be contestants. They decided to call it “Gus’s Amazing Game Show.”

“Basically it’s a trivia game show and whoever hits their buzzer can answer questions and get points,” said Oscar. “Whoever has the most points at the end of all three rounds gets to win a prize.” 

Kids come up with ideas like this all the time, but adults don’t always jump on board or take them seriously. After all, some ideas aren’t meant for anything beyond a lazy afternoon. But Andrew and Stacy thought a game show could be the kind of project the kids could invest themselves in in a meaningful way. Andrew helped them put together a binder to organize their plan and he charged them with creating a script so they could make the show come alive in a compelling way. 

“Dad’s been very, very supportive in the process of helping us,” Oscar said. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”

“We practice almost every morning,” added Gus. “He helps us get the idea of what to do during practice.”

For Andrew, it’s partly just a matter of teaching his kids how to be practical. In order to bring a project to fruition you have to design the steps to get there or it’s not going to happen. But he also understands that knowing how to take an idea and execute it well, provides confidence and practice that pays dividends for future projects—something that will be valuable when his kids become adults.

“I like to create and I like to make music and videos, but it’s taken me a long time to understand the process, organization and approach,” Andrew said. “But then, I’ve also learned that if you understand those things, you can do anything. It’s like a recipe. You get the ingredients and you put it together. So I told them, ‘Okay: Here’s some of the basic things you need.’ But the rest of it is up to them.”

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the boys set up in the MCAT studio to shoot the game show introduction, along with their theme song, which Oscar wrote. They look a lot like their dad, with the same long brown hair and charming grins. Gus, in a dark blue suit, maroon tie, and tan cowboy boots stands behind a table facing the camera saying in his best, most enthusiastic game-show voice, “The one to have the most points at the end of all three rounds gets to win a fabulous prize!” Oscar, in a full-on white suit and black cowboy boots, sits off to the side holding the script. He’s helping Gus get through his lines, but also figuring out what kind of camera angles are necessary for shooting the scenes.

“Okay, ready?” Andrew said, standing behind the camera. “And…action!”

“Now let’s introduce the contestants!” Gus said, turning toward the entrance of the room where the contestants will be once they shoot the actual game show. 

“Oh I like that, that was perfect,” Andrew said. “Let’s do it one more time. That was great.”

One of the ways Andrew prepared the boys for making a quiz show was having them do homework. And that meant watching old game shows to see how they work. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon now offer access to current game shows such as “Jeopardy,” but they also cater to the nostalgia of original game shows like “You Bet Your Life,” “Family Feud,” and “The $25,000 Pyramid.” 

“It was really weird to be like, ‘Okay, you guys can watch some TV,’” Andrew said, laughing. “And they’re in there watching reruns of these ’70s game shows.”

The kids write down what they notice about the game shows: What the camera angles are. How many cameras they think they’ll need. How the game show host introduces the contestants.

“And we just sort of figured out the practical nature of how you film this,” Andrew said.

At MCAT, Gus practices his lines. “Here’s how it works,” he says theatrically into the camera. “If you think you know the answer, you ring the bell!”

He decides he wants the buzzer to look like it appears out of thin air on the table next to him, so Hunt helps him figure out how to make that happen.

“That means when you say that line you’ll have to freeze,” Andrew told Gus. “You absolutely can’t move.”

After Gus freezes, Hunt places the buzzer next to him and then cues him to keep talking. “We’ll make the bell appear when we edit it,” Andrew said. “We’re totally doing that.”

It’s interesting to watch Andrew take the boys’ ideas and help them problem-solve. They’re having fun, but still they’re learning to use new equipment and they’re learning to create a vision and follow through on it.

Andrew said the plan is to film a pilot and then see how it goes. They may end up making more episodes and try to turn it into a season that could air on MCAT. But they’re taking it one step at a time.

After the game show they have other plans. The boys were recently looking through a book called Boy Mechanics that was released in 1913 by Popular Mechanics. Inside they found blueprints for a glider, and they’re hoping to build that together with their dad this summer. Hunt admits he’s personally less enthusiastic about that project, but he’s up for it. The boys’ enthusiasm is kind of hard to resist.

“For me, it doesn’t matter what you want to do,” Andrew said. “Build a fort, or go fishing, or plan a game show. It’s about big-picture organizing and breaking the project down.”

No matter what happens, it’s easy to see that the collaborative process is building confidence and creativity in these boys—and maintaining a bond between father and sons that they’ll remember forever.