Manitoba

Mitch Podolak, founder of Winnipeg Folk Festival and West End Cultural Centre, dies

Manitoba's music scene is mourning a legend after the death of Mitch Podolak. 

Podolak was known Canada-wide for influence in creating music festivals

Mitch Podolak, founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, has died, his family says. (Sandra Thacker/CBC)

Manitoba's music scene is mourning a legend after the death of Mitch Podolak. 

Tributes to the founding artistic director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and founder of Winnipeg's West End Cultural Centre have poured in after word began to spread that he died on Sunday.

"It's been amazing to watch the tributes come in," Leonard Podolak, Mitch's son, told Marcy Markusa, host of CBC Manitoba's morning radio show Information Radio on Monday.

Mitch Podolak, prolific figure in Canadian music, has died. Perhaps most well known in Manitoba as the founding father of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, he also helped start the West End Cultural Centre and the Home Routes House Concert Series among many other musical projects. He hosted 'Simply Folk' on CBC for years, toured the world as a banjo player, and is the father of Leonard Podolak. Leonard Podolak joins Marcy Markusa on Information Radio to remember his father, Mitch. 10:54

Leonard Podolak posted his own tribute to his father on Facebook, along with a photo of Mitch holding his newborn granddaughter.

"He was my hero, and he uplifted anyone who had an idea, good or bad, if they were passionate about it," Leonard Podolak wrote in the post Sunday evening.

"Creating festivals was his way of starting the revolution. And what a revolution it has been."

Leonard chose a photo of Mitch with his granddaughter, as opposed to one of him at the folk festival, to highlight the importance of family in his life.

"He was also an amazing father and an amazing family guy and he made my childhood so much fun," he told CBC News.

Mitch Podolak died from complications related to septic shock, Leonard said.

Podolak was a force in Manitoba's music community. After co-founding the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974, he had a hand in the creation of more festivals across the country, including the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

"He always wanted to help. Folk music was something that was his number 1 passion and he cared about because it's the people's music," said Leonard Podolak.

'A true visionary'

An outpouring of tributes to Podolak on social media began Sunday evening shortly after Leonard Podolak's post, including posts from the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the West End Cultural Centre, Manitoba Music and Prairie Sky Books.

In a post on Facebook, the Winnipeg Folk Festival honoured Podolak and offered condolences to his loved ones.

"More than one of our founders, he was a father, a friend, a leader, a mentor, a true visionary. We owe so much of who we are to him," the Winnipeg Folk Festival wrote in a Facebook post.

"Mitch, your love for and dedication to folk music and to our community will always be a part of us."

Podolak was made a member of the Order of Manitoba in 2015 and received an honourary Doctor of Laws from Brandon University the same year. He was also honoured with a lifetime achievement award, the Unsung Hero Award, from the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2013.

In 2017, supporters donated $35,300 in four days to a GoFundMe drive to raise money to help Podolak renovate his home following major surgery on his spine that required him to use a walker.

His son said the family will hold a memorial for his father in the future.

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