Folk Music’s Radical Patron: Remembering Mitch Podolak

Podolak was a prolific figure in Canadian music who founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the West End Cultural Centre

Photo courtesy the Winnipeg Folk Festival

“Move that over and paint it brown.” I always believed that this famous quote by Mitch Podolak (which he denied making), spoke to the fact that there was a lot more to organizing a “folk festival” than simply hiring a bunch of folk musicians to perform tunes. The crew that built the Winnipeg Folk Festival site came together like a family. They were inspired by Mitch and made his vision come to life. This was the place and the people that changed my life forever.

The reality was that Mitch understood clearly that the presentation was as important as the performers, and he made sure that the message and vision were strictly enforced. Countless hours were spent fussing over every detail of the site to ensure that audience and performers connected on every level. This could be accomplished only by taking care of every little detail, including the liberal (hate to use that word) application of many gallons of brown paint on almost everything on the site.

The result was a warm, inviting place to relax and enjoy a wide range of music: something old, something new, all of it top-notch and inspiring. I wound up buying far too many musical instruments after falling in love with something I had never heard before.

Despite his bluster, Mitch enabled those around him—including yours truly—to grasp and understand his vision and to step forward and help bring it to life. His inspiration and support for new ideas and directions allowed many of us to move on to other projects and provided us with the courage to dream and to think outside the box.

We all have much to thank him for. The world is a better place because of Mitch, and I am a far better, richer person after so many years of friendship with my Comrade. Mitch will live on in the years to come through the power of his inspiration and his contributions to those of us who knew him — and, indeed, to all those who, because of him, came to hear the music.

Fare well, old friend!

Derek Black is a lifelong organizer, union member and former president of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Now retired, he currently sits on the board of the MayWorks Festival — a labour arts festival celebrating the lives of union activists and all working people — and is President of Home Roots, a national festival of house concert performances.

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