Recovering Folk Fest co-founder “blown away” by generosity


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There are few institutions in the Canadian folk music scene that don't bear the fingerprints of Mitch Podolak.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/01/2017 (2206 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are few institutions in the Canadian folk music scene that don’t bear the fingerprints of Mitch Podolak.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival, West End Cultural Centre and Home Routes, North America’s only home-concert circuit, are just three jewels he helped found. Podolak has not just given musicians a place to play and fans a place to discover artists, he helped create an infrastructure in which musicians might be able to build and sustain their careers.

He’s given this community so much. And now, the community is giving back.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Folk Fest co-founder Mitch Podolak at the Shady Grove Winnipeg Folk Fest site in Bird's Hill Provincial Park June, 2015

Podolak, 69, has been in the hospital for the past nine weeks recovering from surgery on his cervical vertebrae. He is looking at eight weeks more. He’ll need to use a wheelchair for the immediate future, which means his home requires outfitting to the tune of roughly $20,000.

His good friend, folk singer/songwriter Heather Bishop, wanted to help raise the funds. “Mitch is the kind of guy who would put his house up against festivals to give us all he’s given us,” she said over the phone. “This is a chance for us to give back.”

Bishop toyed with the idea of organizing a benefit concert — which may still happen down the line — but she figured setting up a fundraising campaign might be faster.

She was right. The campaign went live on Thursday; by 5 p.m. on Friday, it had raised $19,997 of its $20,000 goal. Many of the donations were accompanied by notes, most of them variations on a singular theme: thanks, Mitch, for the music.

“You know, I was reading comments yesterday and I started crying,” Bishop says. “He’s touched so many lives.”

Podolak, for his part, is overwhelmed. “I’m totally blown away it, to tell you the truth. The fact that it worked, and by what people have been saying,” he said when I visited him at Health Sciences Centre on Friday afternoon. He’s thinner now — and more bearded, too — but he looks well. Being laid up for nine weeks has been tough on Podolak; anyone who knows him knows he’s always working on something. But he’s in good spirits. He’s getting stronger, too, thanks to twice-daily physio therapy. “If I was a betting man, I bet that I’ll walk with a walker. I stood up the other day, which was great.”

The money raised means he will be able to return to the Wolseley home he shares with his partner, Ava Kobrinsky. “The basic truth is that Ava and I earn working-class wages, and life in the arts has always been that. We live. We make a living. But we certainly don’t have $20,000 to do repairs on the house. And we want to stay in the house. It’s our home. We could rent out the house and use the money to pay for an apartment, but that means my garden’s gone. It means home is gone.”

This hospital stay, along with the recent death of his oldest and best friend Harry Paine — another person who gave so much to Winnipeg — has got him thinking about his mortality. “I’m trying to live what’s left of my life with as much fun and progressive work as I can do. I’m extraordinarily happy about what I’ve accomplished, but I still have a few more things to do.”

His eyes light up when he discusses all the future projects he has planned, which include everything from writing a book to establishing a tour circuit for female singer/songwriters. He still has dreams of one day arranging a kazoo orchestra, too.

That’s just who Mitch Podolak is. Always dreaming, always building.

Those who still wish to donate can do so at

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.


Updated on Friday, January 13, 2017 8:04 PM CST: fixes quote marks in headline

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