Shazam Fest 2023

In the Eastern townships of Quebec, just outside of Ayer’s Cliff, Shazam Fest took place over the July 13-16th weekend. Thursday through Sunday, and I had the opportunity to check out Friday’s lineup. Since its humble beginnings eighteen years ago the festival of circus and music has grown up to become one of Quebec’s best kept secrets. Held on one of the most idyllic festival sites around, with a hidden valley that leads to a natural amphitheater and the Shazam village which hosts the festival’s stages and vendors.

While I was there I heard good things about the previous night’s festivities. Punk acts Ultrptérodactyle and General Fools launched the festival with a raucous start, blowing the roof off the small stage. There are three stages at the festival, the main Shazam Stage, Small Stage and for the Hip-Hop and electronic music fans the newly renovated amphitheater. People will be getting their daily dose of rhythms in a setting reminiscent of an ancient stone amphitheater. For the kids Thursday also hosted the opening of the weekend long Shazam Olympics, with an inaugural boat race held on a lake that runs through the festival site. For the teenagers there was a Chips and Pop Party at Le Temple Maudit. 

With hardly a dull moment to be found, starting with an afternoon jam session that featured PMR Ska Collective, Friday rang in the first full day of activities. With the sun starting to fade there was still a full evening of entertainment ahead. Fresh off the release of their latest single "Lucifer", Quebec band Gosier impressed with their freeform jams and retro inspired songs. Next up, without much down time between acts, was a plethora of hip hop performers. Featuring Will E. Skandalz, who organized and hosted the showcase that included Obzidion, Holden Stephan Roy who also sat in with Plomberie for a few songs as part of their Saturday night set. Chris Chrome, Natasha Marie, ShoBiz514 and Smoking Ink all collaborated on a very intense performance.

An homage to the circus sideshow of old and festival constant, Ziv's Freakshow never fails to shock and amaze with its feats of the strange and bizarre. Steve Winchester and Bijou Bisou thrilled the crowd with their blend of burlesque and self mutilation. Mr. Winchester closed a mouse trap on his tongue while Bijjou Bisou danced her way out of a straight jacket revealing her rather promiscuous attire. The Mighty Leviticus, a classically trained strong man clad in leopard print volunteered to be a substitute dart board and test the functionality of a coyote trap by putting his hand in it. Why? As Steve Winchester says, speaking to the audience, “for your entertainment.”

The Human Blockhead is the name given when one hammers a nail into one’s nose. This seemed to be a favorite as it was performed by both Steve Winchester and The Mighty Leviticus, with slight artistic variations. But like Bob Dylan going electric, Roxie Cage performed the Blockhead using a power drill and bit as opposed to the acoustic hammer and nail. Ms. Cage then went on to slice a cucumber and carrot on her leg, what she calls the Human Cutting Board. The final member of Ziv’s Freakshow was the sword swallower Daddy Red. Dressed as a quite scary clown, Daddy Red assaulted the audience with a mix of audacity and charm. To close out the show he swallowed a sword and then, while lying on Lego pieces, had The Mighty Leviticus walk on him while carrying Roxie Cage. That’s what I call teamwork.

Montreal psych rock band The Sunset Drip were set to make a return trip to the fest but unfortunately they were not able to strut their stuff due to thunder, lightning and rain of biblical proportions. As well, the fire fanatics Pyrocircus were also forced to cancel their show due to the storm. 

Although the rains made for an early end to Friday’s activities there were still two days of fun to go. Saturday Included the aforementioned horns and brass band Plomberie and the Amphitheater would be jumping all day and night with Imersao and Noviterra pounding the beats. The Shazam stage featured an evening of burlesque and a midnight set by Latin influenced band El Balcon

Sunday hosted the infamous Shazam mustache, beard and mullet contest that’s open to both amateurs and professionals alike. Beyond that Sunday is best known for wrestling which brings in the crowds from all over the eastern townships. This year’s Fight for Shazam! featured Johnny la Magouille and his Acolytes. “A huge crowd comes out because of the wrestling,” says Ziv Przytyk, the artistic director of the festival. “Admission is free all day on Sunday, so lots of folks with kids come to watch. It's like a spectator sport all around: the squares watch the freaks, the freaks watch the squares, and everybody watches the wrestling—it's a lot of fun!”

Every year that I return to the festival I am always surprised by how much it has grown from its humble beginnings that started as a vision and a dream. Be it with the influx of attendees, the growing number of vendors or improvements to the infrastructure. Like this year’s big addition, showers for the campers. With ample space for camping, great vibes and a copious amount of mayhem are just some of the reasons for the festival’s growth. Or maybe because it's just a real good time.