Outside a hotel in Ottawa, my girlfriend once mistook Mitch Podolak for a homeless man. Little did she know, Mitch gave music and musicians a home all over Canada.
The Pickup Cowboys and I just got back from the Bear Creek Folk Music Festival in northern Alberta, where it was 48° F and rainy all weekend. Canadian music fans wrapped themselves in slickers and blankets and huddled together in the rain to get their festival on. If you asked them why, their reasons would undoubtably include, “I grew up going to folk festivals.” Sometimes, “I grew up at THIS festival.”
When I’m on stage, I thank the people who are not on stage who made the event happen. Sometimes, it’s a single person. Sometimes, it’s hundreds of people. Thanking Mitch Podolak seems like thanking hundreds of people.
Off the top of my head, Mitch Podolak started or helped to start the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Edmonton, Calgary, Stan Rogers, Summerfolk, and more. He started record labels, venues, and, most recently, house concert tours through the remote communities of the world’s second largest country.
Every Canadian folk festival has things in common. Coast to coast, across four thousand miles, they have a FEEL. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Mitch Podolak designed the Canadian folk festival, a thing that seems so ubiquitous now that it’s easy to think they were always there.
When I say “folk festival,” unless you’re Canadian, I feel like I should explain. I saw Crash Test Dummies last week at Bear Creek. I was on the bill in Sudbury with A Tribe Called Red. I played a round at Stan Rogers with a duo who played a laptop and an oud. It’s really, actually folk music, a diversity of music that people party with and shape into playlists (once a Case Logic box full of cassettes) for those long Canadian road trips. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is an incredible song, but nobody plays it at a wedding. Folk music isn’t a style in Canada. It’s a connection. It’s a place- many places- where, every year, there’s a chance to heal old wounds and discover something new.
When I fly into Canada to play music, someone working security will see my guitar and say, “Don’t forget to slack your strings! Where are you playing? My dad will be there! I’ll tell him I met you!” Sometimes they write down my name so they can listen to my music later. There’s a sense of joy and discovery that I haven’t experienced in the airport security lines of any other country.
I think the folk festivals did that.
Mitch Podolak‘s life looks, in retrospect, like a cultural revolution. If you know Mitch, you know that was never an accident. “We are not in the music business. We are in the music community.”
I know other fantastic people were involved, and everyone who is not on stage right now deserves recognition. However, Mitch Podolak just left the stage and DAMN. What a show. Standing O.
Safe home, Mitch. Safe home.
We’re playing live and live-streaming from our favorite roadhouse, The Kraken, this Wednesday 7-10pm EDT. You can tune in at YouTube.com/jonathanbyrd , Facebook.com/jonathanbyrdmusic , on the periscope app @jonathanbyrdmusic , on Mixer as ShakeSugaree and Twitch as PickupCowboys.
Thursday and Friday, we’ll be in Front Royal VA at the Appaloosa Festival! https://appaloosafestival.com
Later this month, we’re going to AmericanaFest in Nashville TN for a whole week of elbow-rubbin’ and string-twangin’. https://americanamusic.org/about-americanafest
All tour dates currently confirmed are up at jonathanbyrd.com/schedule . Y’all come.