Academic journal article Ethnologies

"The Best Laid Plans of Marx and Men": Mitch Podolak, Revolution, and the Winnipeg Folk Festival

Academic journal article Ethnologies

"The Best Laid Plans of Marx and Men": Mitch Podolak, Revolution, and the Winnipeg Folk Festival

Article excerpt

* Mitch Podolak declara que << Pete Seeger et Leon Trotsky determinent tout dans ma vie, et surtout le Winnipeg Folk Festival >>. Cet article analyse la creation du Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF) en 1974 comme etant la premiere tentative de Podolak de marier ses dix annees d'endoctrinement politique trotskiste avec sa passion pour la musique traditionnelle. Son intention etait de creer un festival folklorique canadien qui incarnerait la resistance politique du mouvement international trotskyste et permettrait de mettre le systeme democratique capitaliste canadien au defi sur le plan culturel. Tres largement influence par l'utilisation que le parti communiste etasunien faisait de la chanson traditionnelle, Podolak etait convaincu que cette derniere ainsi que sa mise en spectacle etaient socialement importantes. Cette importance croyait-il venait de la cohesion sociale qui pouvait se creer dans l'espace performatif du festival. Une fois soigneusement organise, cet espace etait en mesure de creer du sens. Les rapports entre le directeur artistique, le chanteur traditionnel, la chanson et le public du festival s'entremelent pour donner de facon dialectique un sens a la chanson et a l'espace qui simultanement definissent la musique traditionnelle.

* Mitch Podolak said, "Pete Seeger and Leon Trotsky lead to everything in my life, especially the Winnipeg Folk Festival." This article discusses the creation of the Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF) in 1974 as Podolak's first attempt to fuse his ten years of Trotskyist political training with his love for folk music. His intention was to create a Canadian folk festival which would embody the politically resistant nature of the Trotskyist international movement for the purpose of challenging the Canadian liberal capitalist democratic system on a cultural front. Heavily influenced by the American Communist Party's use of folk music, Podolak believed that the folk song and its performance were socially important. This importance, he believed, stemmed from the social cohesion that could be created within a festival performance space. This space, when thoughtfully organized, could have the ability to create meaning. The relationships between the artistic director, the folk singer, the folk song and the festival audience become intertwined to dialectically create the meaning of the song and the space simultaneously defining folk music

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Folk music festivals are found in major centres across the Canadian west. (1) According to the Western Roots Artistic Directors' (WRAD) (2) website, fewer than 100 people organize festivals with annual budgets totalling over 13 million dollars, which are supported by 13,000 volunteers, and hire more than 860 artists and groups who perform for around 500,000 spectators. While much of the scholarship that deals with the North American folk revival situates it in the past tense (Cohen 1995, 2002; Mitchell 2007; Rosenberg 1993; Weissman 2005), folk music festivals remain alive and well.

Western Canadian folk music festivals, loosely organized in WRAD since 1999, began in 1974 with the Winnipeg Folk Festival. The present work, as a first step to situate what have become WRAD festivals, focuses on interviews with the WFF founder, Mitch Podolak. I outline some key issues which inspired him to start the WFF, the organizational strategies he employed, and the political dimensions that brought these strategies to the fore. Not a historical outline of the early years of the WFF, this article is instead a critical exploration of how one crucial individual lived, received, and understood various fragments of history and how, informed with these understandings, he synthesised a practice in the form of a folk music festival. I contribute here both to academic studies exploring Canada's place in the folk revival, following the work laid out by Neil Rosenberg (1993) and Gillian Mitchell (2007), and to examinations of revival folk festivals, including the WFF (Greenhill 1995 and 2001; Greenhill and Thoroski 2003). …

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