There’s no doubt that folk tunes and culture exist as fundamental pillars of music today. However, it seems that public interest in twanging banjos and campfire jam sessions has declined in recent years.
Long-time self-proclaimed folkie Mitch Podolak is trying to keep the flame alive with his organization Home Routes / Chemin Chez Nous. Founded in 2007, it’s a network of house shows across Canada that give folk artists the opportunity to earn a living and explore new towns and venues in more remote regions of the country.
Podolak is broadening Home Routes with three new podcasts, including the Wednesday Night Folk show (which he named to commit himself to one show per week). He features an eclectic mix of folk styles and uses his prolific knowledge of radio to give listeners the best folk experience.
“I surely love radio because I love music,” he says. “Of course, what radio is about is what good entertainment is about. When you do folk music or folk music festivals, you better pay attention to the enjoyability factor. You better pay attention to what entertains people.”
Podolak is an influential figure in Winnipeg music, having co-founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974 and helping to create the West End Cultural Centre in 1987. He notes that his output to the Manitoba folk community has always been politically and socially charged.
“You could say that folk music has working-class origins, but it isn’t working-class culture, because all culture in capitalist society is capitalist culture,” he says. “The thing I like about folk music is that if you practise as an amateur artist, for the love of, all of a sudden what you have in your hands is an ever-growing, living art form that you can contribute to … anybody can get involved in it.”
With this grassroots belief in mind, Podolak has moved from the large scale of the Winnipeg Folk Festival back to his beginnings hosting gigs at Toronto’s Bohemian Embassy Coffee House in 1961. Home Routes / Chemin Chez Nous aims to bring a more intimate setting and connectivity by catering to smaller, devoted audiences typically found at house shows.
Winnipeg singer-songwriter Madeleine Roger is gearing up for a house show tour along Home Routes’ Aurora Trail from March 2 to 15. Stops will include Whitehorse and Dawson City in Yukon and Inuvik in Northwest Territories. She’s toured extensively through Canada in the last few years both on her own and with her twin brother, Lucas Roger, in the duo Roger Roger. She acknowledges that house concerts can bring a unique and special atmosphere with them.
“House concerts are so intimate. A lot of the songs I’ve written have been written in living rooms … the songs are in their natural habitat,” she says. “It’s always about the stories that you hear. You get the chance to really get to know (people). It can be life lessons or values or hilarious stories that you carry with you for the rest of your life.”
Listen to Mitch Podolak’s podcasts and learn more about specific Home Routes / Chemin Chez Nous tours at homeroutes.ca. More information on Madeleine Roger can be found at madeleineroger.com.
Published in Volume 73, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 28, 2019)