The Yard at Moe's Alley.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
The Here & Now

‘The Yard At Moe’s Alley’ set to bring the outdoor good vibes of local beer gardens to iconic music house

THE HERE & NOW: The Yard is an uncomplicated, informal, live-music-cold-beer revamping of the patio at stalwart venue Moe’s Alley, and shows there are already selling out as the Santa Cruz music scene emerges from the pandemic.

The great midtown live-music venue Moe’s Alley — well, it’s not so much an “alley” anymore.

Under new ownership since January, Moe’s has completely revamped and enlarged its outdoor patio to create a second stage to the one we all know and love indoors at the club.

New owners Brian Ziel and Lisa Norelli have created essentially a new venue right alongside the familiar one, an outdoors space the vibe of which is very similar to popular outdoor spaces at beer gardens like Beer Thirty or Humble Sea.

Ziel recently showed me around the newly remodeled outdoor space — now rechristened as “The Yard at Moe’s Alley” — in advance of the venue’s first major concert there, former X frontman and roots rocker John Doe on Saturday evening.

He said that he and his partner Norelli wanted to create a kind of Austin vibe at Moe’s, the kind of uncomplicated, informal, live-music-cold-beer atmosphere you’ll find at places like Stubb’s in Austin. With its picnic tables and heat lamps, it takes advantage of nice Santa Cruz weather in a way that Moe’s couldn’t do before.

Moe's Alley co-owner Brian Ziel
“It isn’t necessarily a pandemic adaptation,” Moe’s Alley co-owner Brian Ziel said. “This is more just how things are going to go from now on.”
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

You might think it’s pretty late in the game to rethink your venue to adapt to a pandemic that’s in fast retreat. But that’s not the big picture.

“It isn’t necessarily a pandemic adaptation,” Ziel said. “This is more just how things are going to go from now on.”

Shows at The Yard will be accompanied by popular food trucks, with liquid refreshment provided by the bar at Moe’s. The stage isn’t as big or involved as the indoor stage, so it’s best for acoustic acts, solo performers or duos.

Capacity is limited, too, largely due to COVID-19 restrictions. The John Doe show sold out quickly, as did future shows featuring longtime Moe’s favorite SambaDa and the rockabilly artist Deke Dickerson.

The indoor club will, of course, come roaring back to life when it’s safe to again do live music inside. But in the meantime, Moe’s has used its transition to new ownership and pandemic downtime to establish the outdoor venue as a flexible space for sit-down shows, dance shows, even non-musical events like brunches.

“I’m a big record collector nerd,” Ziel said, “and I’d like to do some kind of record swap here, with a DJ or a band, have some pop-ups and breakfast burritos and just hang out and swap records.”

The Coffis Brothers play The Yard at Moe's Alley.
(Courtesy Moe’s Alley)

As for upcoming dates at The Yard, Moe’s has announced a number of new shows, many of which are familiar faces to fans of the club. They include distinctive rootsy rocker Pokey LaFarge (June 19), singer/songwriter and Santa Cruz native Taylor Rae (June 20) and the fine local band Coffee Zombie Collective (June 18).

Indoors, Moe’s is beginning to book new shows, too, anticipating a relaxing of restrictions. They include the great honky-tonker Dale Watson (Oct. 1) and the fun trio that’s played Santa Cruz 10,000 times and counting, the one-and-only Southern Culture on the Skids (way off, June 25, 2022).

For ticket info, check out the Moe’s Alley website.

From book to action: Public libraries in Santa Cruz and Watsonville are combining forces in a community reading program called “Book to Action.” This week, the two library systems are making available copies of “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” by Jose Antonio Vargas.

The book is available in English and Spanish, with print, e-book and audio formats, as well as a young reader’s edition. Events are planned to encourage the community to read and engage with the book, a memoir of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist born in the Philippines but raised in the United States.

The events include book discussion groups, a film screening and a storytelling workshop, and the program culminates in an online conversation with the author himself on June 24 from 7-8 p.m.

Author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

This is the kind of program in which the public library can really exercise its power to open minds and bring about change in the community. I’ve already got my copy of “Dear America.”

For more information on the events surrounding “Book to Action,” or to download or reserve a copy of the book, Watsonville Library cardholders can go here, and Santa Cruz County cardholders can go here.

Santa Cruz’s poetry muscle: The Paterson Poetry Prize is an annual award given for excellence to a volume of poetry published the previous year. Of the seven finalists for the prize in 2021, two are Santa Cruz poets, and it’s no surprise who they are. Congratulations to former Poets Laureate of Santa Cruz County, Ellen Bass for her book “Indigo” and Danusha Lameris for “Bonfire Opera.”

Mars' Santa Cruz Hill.
( screenshot)

Santa Cruz on Mars? The NASA rover Perseverance recently sent back photos from the surface of Mars of a rocky hill that’s been named, for some reason, “Santa Cruz.” Maybe it’s because of a giant Screaming Blue Hand sticking out of it, but we can’t confirm that.

News-weak: Yes, there still is a Newsweek magazine, and last week it published a story about last summer’s tragic murder of Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller. Locals might (or might not) get something out of the story if they can get past a critical misspelling of where the killing took place.

The story says that the shooting happened in “the mountain town of Ben Lamond.” Sigh.

Words to live by: Movie theaters have a uniquely visible public forum that other businesses don’t have: the marquee. And when there are no movies to advertise, that’s an invitation to spread a little truth to the wider world.

This week, the beautiful Del Mar in Santa Cruz, still closed due to the pandemic, used its forum to remind us all of our primary duty in this life, expressed in distinctive Gen X style:

“Be excellent to each other,” from those great sages Bill & Ted.

Who’s going to argue with that?

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