Mitch Podolak

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Mitchell Podolak, now merely Mitch, is the person who I have consciously known for a longer time than anyone else in my entire life. We were in nursery school together and then went to various summer camps and I am not even sure that maybe we even met up at High School again. But around the age of 14 he decided that this was not for him and off he went, so by the time he was 17 or so, he had hitchhiked back and forth across Canada around a dozen times. A true Woody Guthrie type of a kind that does not exist today. I have met up with him only once since those days, on a visit I made to Winnipeg in the late 1990s, where he really has put down roots.

What he has made of himself can be seen in this citation just given last year where he was named, The Unsung Hero at Canadian Folk Music Awards. This is what the citation said:

CALGARY – Mitch Podolak, a prominent figure of the Canadian folk music community, is the recipient of the Unsung Hero award for this year’s Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA). The award will be presented at the CFMA Awards Gala on November 10 in Calgary, Alberta.

The Unsung Hero Award is presented annually by the CFMAs in recognition of the exceptional contribution of an individual, group, or organization to any aspect of the Canadian folk music scene. Each year, nominations are accepted from the region where the awards take place. With this year’s awards taking place in Calgary, nominations were accepted from the following regions in Western Canada; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Mitch Podolak began his career in the early sixties at the Bohemian Embassy Coffee House in Toronto, where he rose from bus boy to booking shows. In the late 1960s, he began a dynamic relationship with CBC Radio as a freelance documentary filmmaker, working into the 1970s for such shows as Five Nights, CBC Tuesday Night, Between Ourselves and This Country In The Morning. Podolak hosted the CBC’s Simply Folk radio program from 1987 to 1991.

With CBC as a resource base, Podolak helped found the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974, serving as the artistic director with Ava Kobrinsky and Colin Gorrie. It was an immediate success and in 1978 he and Gorrie, with Ernie Fladell, Gary Cristall and Frannie Fitzgibbon, founded the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Within the next few years he also helped the Edmonton and Calgary Folk Festivals open their doors. He has also been a major contributor to festivals further east, including Canso, Nova Scotia, Owen Sound and others.

Beyond folk festivals, Podolak was the co-founder of the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival and was the originator of the idea and effort that created the West End Cultural Centre, a major music venue in Winnipeg. In 1976 he founded Barnswallow Records, the label that launched the career of Stan Rogers. Currently Podolak operates as Executive Producer of Home Routes, which is North America’s only house concert circuit.

He is one of the few people I know from my early youth who is famous enough to show up on Google when you put in his name. Our politics are, however, not all that similar. Yet I should mention that this was not always the case. The nursery school we met at was run by comrades for the children of comrades. Both of us began our treks through life on the far left side of politics. I am where I am, and this is where he is.

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Trotskyist is definitely right which is something of a shame since it got in the way of truly having a granfalloon moment when we met in Winnipeg those now many years ago. But every memory is warm and he still looks the same as he was when I knew him, maybe not in nursery school, but perhaps when we caught up the last time we met.

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