ShazamFest: 4 days of music, circus, burlesque & wrestling in the Eastern Townships

We spoke with Ziv Przytyk about the 18th edition of his festival, happening in Barnston-Ouest, Quebec from July 13–16.

After he was rejected from circus school at Cirque du Soleil at the age of 17, ShazamFest founder Ziv Przytyk says he sort of just drifted through life until he was 28. But he soon became fed up with what he was doing, and decided he would live his lifelong dream by starting his own circus. That became ShazamFest, a vaudevillian dreamland, where people tired of the mundane go to party for four days and get lost in creative chaos.

“Some friends of mine were doing another circus and when that stopped, I went and recovered all of the infrastructure from that site and that’s how I was able to start ShazamFest,” he says. “I got some small music acts together, and did this DIY circus thing.”

The first festival started off small, hosted on his family’s organic farm in the Eastern Townships. Around 70 people attended during the first iteration in 2005. By the second year, the festival grew by word-of-mouth, hosting 450 people. Last year, it hit 2,000 people. 

“I really had no idea what to expect when I first started it,” Przytyk says. “We have no corporate backing and it’s all local food and goods, and some big music names who were nobodies before have played ShazamFest. I think of the Damn Truth, Radio Radio, Clay and Friends.”

This year, ShazamFest #18, the headlining musical act is the Calypso/reggae group Kobo Town, playing alongside the Sunset Drip, Desbois and others.

But music is also only one part of ShazamFest. There’s also wrestling, burlesque shows, pop-up art parties, dance, even freak shows.

“That’s one of my favourite events. I host the freak shows,” Przytyk says. “Sometimes the performers do weird and unusual things to me. I’ve been put on a bed of nails before, had a cinder block broken on me, I got Double-Suplexed once. I’m always part of the action.”

Returning to the ShazamFest Freak Show this year is the Mighty Leviticus, a strongman whose name is the stuff of legend, perhaps passed down the generations, harkening all the way back to the 1930s. Then there’s a guy who goes by the Master of Pain.

“The freak shows are always fun because the kids love them and the parents kind of cringe. I don’t even watch the freak shows anymore. I just watch the audience’s reaction.”

ShazamFest has really become a generational festival, with attendees of the first few festivals now bringing their kids into the circus madness.

“We had no kids in the first year and last year we had like 500 kids and teenagers running around, so that really contributes to the vibe of the festival,” Przytyk says. “My friend’s kids are now bringing their kids.”

Unlike other festivals that become a sea of plastic and garbage after ending, ShazamFest is almost a completely green festival. Going along with the Przytyk organic farm ethos, single use plastic is discouraged and dishware is to be washed and reused and composted. All the stages and structures are also hand-built with recycled or reclaimed materials found on the site. Then there’s the annual volunteer garbage clean up on Monday, run by Przytyk in a tractor. 

“We sort and collect all of the trash and it’s usually 15 or 20 of us who stay behind so it goes by quickly,” Przytyk says. “Last year we only had 10 bags of garbage from 2,000 people, so I ask you, how many festivals can claim that?” ■

The 18th edition of ShazamFest runs from July 13–16 in Barnston-Ouest, Quebec. For more, please visit their website.

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