Live music was hit hard during the pandemic.
Here in Santa Cruz, several venues have remained open by functioning as restaurants and throwing socially distant outdoor shows. But this has not been an option for places that function primarily as bars and nightclubs.
Take Moe’s Alley, a historic location that has meant a lot to many in this community and the countless touring bands that perform on stage each year. Since last March, owner Bill Welch has had to keep bills paid with no income. But now some of her stress is increasing. Right after the first of the year, he sold it to Lisa Norelli, 41, and Brian Ziel, 53, who have been talking about owning a hall since they became friends 12 years ago.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” Ziel says. “What Bill went through in the last 10 months was trying to keep Moe’s from shutting down forever. Literally, it was survival. I feel like we are now in a place where Lisa and I are focused on, “How are we going to reopen?” “
The effects of the pandemic aside, Welch had been in talks with Norelli and Ziel for years to buy the club. Ziel has been involved in various aspects of music for the past 30 years. His career has mainly been spent in the technology public relations industry. Norelli has worked at Moe’s for 15 years, first as a bartender. For 11 years, she has been the general manager of the club.
“He [Welch] always wanted to prepare myself to do it. I always wanted to do it with Brian. We have been working on it for a long time. I am delighted that this is finally happening, ”said Norelli. “We’re not just two kids coming off the streets and going to change Moe’s. Moe’s soul will remain as it always has been, we just want to make it grow.
“I couldn’t think of two better people to pass the torch to than Brian and Lisa,” says Welch, who opened the club in 1992. “They’re both music lovers. I have worked with Lisa for 15 years.
Both point out that Moe’s was once strictly a blues club. Over the years, Welch has broadened the acts he reserved to include funk, reggae, Americana, and country.
Ziel and Norelli want to do the same thing: keep those same genres and reserve the same local and national numbers that people have come to associate with Moe’s over the years, but to widen the boundaries a bit, in an effort to attract a younger audience.
“I think there’s indie rock, there’s EDM, which would definitely attract younger fans,” Norelli said. “There are a lot of people who still don’t know us. We are going to change that.
Buying a nightclub with no income during a global pandemic is a risky decision, but Norelli and Ziel are cautiously optimistic. At the moment, they have some renovations they want to undertake. They plan to expand Moe’s patio and turn it into a space that can accommodate socially distant outdoor acoustic performances. They say there will be food trucks and other fun stuff.
As soon as they feel safe, they will organize socially distant outdoor concerts. They hope it will be in the spring or early summer, but make no commitments. As for when they will reopen the interior space, that will be further down the road when the Covid-19 situation improves significantly.
“It’s a question of when, not if. There is pent-up demand for audiences and groups. The big question is, how comfortable are people going to feel? Lisa and I make safety our top priority at Moe’s, ”says Ziel. “We don’t have an appointment. But we have a ton of energy. I have attended hundreds of shows at Moe’s. It is a special place. We want to keep the legacy Bill built.
“I know Moe’s will be in good hands,” Welch says. “They have varied musical tastes and they come from the community.”