Moshe Vilozny remembers the time in 2009 when Fishbone played Moe’s Alley. Unlike most shows he booked, this one felt like things could get out of hand at any moment. In fact, the club, which tended to book blues, reggae, Americana, and mellow indie rock at the time, didn’t have staff for crowd control—it wasn’t needed. But at that show, owner Bill Welch told Vilozny to go over to the stage to make sure no one got hurt.
“I didn’t know how crazy it would get with Fishbone getting older,” Vilozny says. “[Lead singer] Angelo [Moore] jumps off, he’s swinging on our lighting rig, flipping over, hanging on his leg, just going absolutely nuts. That’s probably one of the edgiest shows we ever booked at Moe’s.”
Vilozny began helping out Welch with booking in 2005, and did not expect it to become his career for the next decade and a half. But on July 31, he’s going to officially retire, and celebrate the moment with a performance of his own tunes, along with sets from Peter Harper and Dave Holodiloff.
“I wasn’t intending to do this for as long as I did. I started working there while I was going to UCSC,” Vilozny says.
Fortunately for locals, Moe’s Alley is in good hands with new owners Lisa Norelli and Brian Ziel, who took over the club from Welch this year and are eager to keep the spot great.
Under Welch’s ownership, Moe’s has been a very consistent venue, with several of the same acts coming through every year to good-sized crowds. In an industry with extremely high turnover, Vilozny booked for 16 years, developed relationships with people in the industry, and got to understand the markets extremely well. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what constituted a Moe’s Alley show, but you knew it when you saw it.
“It was comfortable for everybody, everyone knew what to expect,” Vilozny explains. “It was the kind of thing where people could just walk in—I’m just going to Moe’s and see a good show. We had, like, a certain thing we were going for.”
Welch and Phil Lewis opened the club in 1992 as a purely blues venue. Lewis left about a decade later, and Welch knew he wanted to broaden the kinds of acts that played there. On Jan. 7, 2005, Vilozny booked his own band there, the eclectic world beat-infused Universal Language, which sold that show out. Afterward, Welch chatted with him and found out that since 2000, he’d had experience at Palookaville and the Catalyst, and knew his way around several markets, including reggae, bluegrass, and Americana. At first, Welch continued to book blues and other acts he knew well, while Vilozny took over with other genres. He also helped with press releases, filing contracts, prepping ads in the paper. By 2020, Vilozny was booking nearly all the acts that played at Moe’s
“It was definitely a team effort, and I want to stress that and show Bill Welch some love for all the work he put in supporting live music. He dedicated his life to the venue. More hands-on and involved than any other club owner I know.”
When the pandemic hit, Moe’s completely shut down. Unlike some of the other spots, they couldn’t operate as a restaurant or throw outdoor shows. By mid-April, once it was clear this was going to go on for quite a while, Vilozny used the time to get his substitute teaching credentials. During the summer, he enrolled in online classes for his Masters in Elementary Education.
“I’m ready to give that a try, something that’s more—I don’t know if it’s mainstream, but more secure,” Vilozny says “I like working with kids.”
Moe’s new owners are off to a good start. Once they bought the venue in early 2021, Vilozny started getting them up to speed.
“The new team is doing a great job,” Vilozny says. “I am stoked the Moe’s legacy is continuing with them. It’s the perfect fit and I have no regrets. I have nothing but love for Moe’s Alley and the folks that have helped make it one of the best live music venues in the area.”
Moshe Vilozny performs with Peter Harper and Dave Dave Holodiloff at 6pm on Saturday, July 31 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $15. 831-479-1854.