For a woman who named herself “Shocked,” and who has, for more than 25 years, used rebellion and confrontation as her artistic muse, what happened last night at Moe’s Alley should not come as a shock.

Still, Michelle Shocked’s impromptu artistic protest outside Moe’s was one of the strangest things to happen on the local live music scene in years. Two weeks ago, Shocked brought down the ire of millions on herself with inflammatory anti-gay sentiments uttered

Michelle Shocked camped out in front of Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz, protesting the cancellation of her show March 28.

Michelle Shocked camped out in front of Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz, protesting the cancellation of her show March 28.

on stage at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. When Moe’s Alley later cancelled her appearance there — as many clubs did — she decided to show up anyway on Thursday night.

What followed was an unsettling and provocative form of performance art that became a national news story.

Vnes Ely, a performer who calls herself Vnes of Santa Cruz, was at the center of the storm on Thursday night. After cancelling Shocked, Moe’s booked two gay-friendly bands — Eager Beaver and Frootie Flavors — and Vnes served as emcee, as well as playing in Frootie Flavors. The show was called “Short, Sharp and Proud,” a play on Shocked’s most popular album, the 1998 hit “Short, Sharp and Shocked.”

“It was pretty amazing,” said Vnes (pronounced “Venus”) of the events leading up to the show. She was loading into the back area at Moe’s about two hours before showtime. Someone had confirmed that Shocked was in town — earlier, she had Tweeted that she would come to Santa Cruz.

“And suddenly she’s coming in the side door, and she’s on stage,” said Vnes. Shocked was wearing a thin white cover-all suit with a head covering, tape over her mouth and sunglasses. “She was waving this tablet around and she wanted to communicate. You could tell she was kind of frustrated.”

Vnes, Moe’s owner Bill Welch and co-producer Michael Horne of Pulse Productions were discussing how they might respond if Shocked showed when she quietly walked in the side.

“We were talking,” said Horne, “about how we could make this a positive thing, how we could push forward the dialogue, considering all that was happening with Prop. 8 and the Supreme Court. There was an openness at the beginning of engaging her in some way, as a way to elevate the situation.”

While Shocked’s appearance at Moe’s wasn’t a big surprise, her presentation certainly was. “It was kind of creepy,” said Horne, who has booked Shocked in local venues going back 15 years or more. “She was just writing frantically, trying to communication, jumping up and down. It really caught us off guard.”

Shocked had Tweeted that she was taking a vow of silence. In light of the bizarre performance art, Welch, who has known Shocked for years, let it be known to her that she would not be performing and ushered her outside. To the performers, Shocked held up her tablet and wrote on it “Leader?,” asking to speak of the leader of the band, and also “Compromise?”

“I just silently shook my head,” said Vnes, “and you could tell she was getting really exasperated. She wanted people to draw or write on her suit with a Sharpie, but she wasn’t quite getting that across. We were all completely stunned.”

Shocked then camped out in front of Moe’s for the next couple of hours, strumming chords on her guitar and putting up cryptically worded signs protesting the cancellation of her show. Many who showed up for the “Short, Sharp and Proud” show did not realize that the disguised person sitting on the ground playing guitar outside was, in fact, Michelle Shocked.

“People just thought, ‘Oh just another Santa Cruz weirdo,’”said Vnes, who said that her band had planned to do a Michelle Shocked song, but scrapped it when she showed up.

“Once inside,” said Horne, “then people sort of figured it out, and they would go meander out to see her. Some sat down and talked to her.”

Shocked did not break her verbal silence. Shortly before the second band began to play, somewhere around 9 p.m., she quietly packed up and slipped away. On Twitter, she has indicated that she’ll go Friday to the Hopmunk Tavern in Novato, a club that also cancelled a scheduled concert.

Vnes is one of the Santa Cruz queer community’s most visible personalities and activists and thus was logically a target of Shocked’s anti-gay screed. But, she said, she had compassion for the spot Shocked had put herself in, and respect for her artistic integrity.

“Look, I’m a fan of her music. I really enjoyed listening her play those songs that I love. (Shocked’s protest) was really brilliant in its own twisted way. I was impressed. Her creative genius cannot be denied. I just found the whole situation very sad, the way it has caused the disintegration of her career. I wish her well.”

Shocked had done something similar before in Santa Cruz. In the late 1990s, a local show of hers was cancelled because of a dispute with a club. Shocked showed up the night of the cancelled show and performed on Pacific Avenue as a busker.

Michael Horne has been producing shows and bringing in national-name artists for 30 years. “This was definitely one of the most twisted things I’ve seen,” he said.

Still, he said, if she had approached them differently, Shocked might have been able to have her performance piece and make headway toward communication and reconciliation with her shattered fan base.

“I kind of view it as a lost opportunity,” said Horne. “If she had come to us and said, ‘Hey, I want to do this performance-art piece,’ we would have been open to that and things might have turned out differently. But as it was, it was just weird and creepy.”

7 thoughts on “Shocker at Moe’s: The inside story on Michelle Shocked’s bizarre performance art appearance

  1. So, let’s be clear.. her words had been misunderstood and taken out of context at the supposed offensive set at Yoshi’s. When seasoned columnists like Wallace Baine haven’t even teased out the current known facts of the story and perpetuate the misunderstanding, we see that he is more interested in the “shock” rather than the story. Lame, Baine.

  2. It is you that need to inform himself, Brent. Listen to the audio and read Michelle’s comments after via twitter and Spin. It is her fear that is fostering intolerance. Fear of the end times due to the ‘threat’ of gay marriage. It’s about saving souls to her. Very sad story.

  3. There’s a transcript of her onstage comments at It is somewhat incriminating.

    From what I gather, she did express an anti-gay marriage opinion, but was not ranting “God Hates Fags” as I read elsewhere that she was. That would be Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

    Michelle Shocked became a Christian a long time ago, I seem to recall, and it should not be surprising that, like most Christians, she disapproves of same-sex marriage. Yes, it’s a disrespectful belief and it hurts people who aren’t hurting anybody by having a same sex partner. I think she went over that line at Yoshi’s. Not good. Not even ok.

    Performance art has been mostly a lot more bizarre than anything Michelle Shocked did at Moe’s the other night. And that’s often been a good thing. Most importantly, bizarre behavior doesn’t necessarily hurt anybody. Ironically, this is the sort of criticism we’ve come to expect from the Christian Right and other defenders of the status quo, but it’s disrespect that consistently hurts people, not the failure to observe social norms.

    Is Michelle Shocked a rebel… “who has, for more than 25 years, used rebellion and confrontation as her artistic muse”? I don’t think so. She’s sold way too many tickets and recordings in the mainstream marketplace of this increasingly fearful and intolerant country to be much of a rebel. That’s blatant distortion. She hasn’t even pretended very much.

    Is her career over? I haven’t been listening to her work much for a long time. I lost enthusiasm shortly after a corporate label (Mercury) released a collection of her songs recorded on a consumer cassette recorder in 1986. She’s certainly getting more press from this incident at Yoshi’s than she usually gets. Too bad it isn’t about some great new music.

    This article, with it’s celebrity gossip headline and content, fails to convey how Michelle Shocked was disrespectful at Moes and it seems to demonize weirdness. Not good. Not even ok.

    How about asking more interesting questions. ie. Is it ok to host performers with obnoxious beliefs as long as they don’t voice them? Doesn’t it come out in the songs anyway? As long as the tickets sell, most venues, promoters and entertainment writers in this country don’t care about the opinions or integrity of the people on stage. (Michael Horne always seemed something of an exception to that) Is this fuss about Michelle Shocked appearing at Moe’s really about disrespecting the holy business-as-usual trinity of venue, promoter, and entertainment writer? Too bad her opinions aren’t more worthwhile, like Pussy Riot at the Russian cathedral, or even the London crowd-pleasing, anti-Bush comments from the Dixie Chicks.

  4. While she was much less hostile than early reports indicated, Shocked’s remarks were, in fact, not taken out of context. She said, in a rambling way, that she and other fundamentalists – she made it clear that these were her beliefs too – that if gay marriage passed and preachers were forced to marry gays at gunpoint, it would be the thing that caused Jesus to come back. In North Carolina in 2011, she referred to herself as the world’s greatest homophobe, and she told a Christian magazine in 2007 that she believed that “fornication” and being gay were violations of God’s will for us. So no, she has not been misrepresented, and her apology was unfortunately a lie. She says in the audio, “I shouldn’t say their beliefs, because they’re mine too.” I’d be more interested in her ensuing performance art if she were willing to admit the truth about her beliefs. She doesn’t seem to understand that gay people don’t have to take this kind of crap anymore. In the ’90s, if someone said, “Hey, I hate the sin but I love the sinner,” we had to be grateful that they were at least not calling for us to be burned at the stake. In this century, though, we have a lot more support than we used to, and Shocked seems to be too out of touch to realize that. I think she sincerely believes she’s misunderstood, but she’s also trying to play it both ways to salvage her career.

  5. We here so much these days from “progressives” about right-wing “intolerance”. I wonder how FDR or JFK would have responded if told when alive that Democrat politics in 2013 would revolve about pandering to homosexuals and illegal aliens.

  6. We pandered to African-Americans when we stopped slavery? We pandered to women when we gave them the vote? We pandered to children when we abolished child labor? The right is so concerned with protecting our society from the ravages of justice and fairness. Short of some kind of group epiphany, we must wait until this old contingent of hateful meanness dies out and is replaced by caring citizens capable of creative and complex thinking.

  7. There is a difference between tolerance and pandering. Tolerance involves supporting people’s rights not to be discriminated against. Pandering is something entirely different and much less noble. The 2nd definition below describes the democratic party perfectly. They profess their positions on gay issues to exploit the gay community.

    pan·dered, pan·der·ing, pan·ders
    1. To act as a go-between or liaison in sexual intrigues; function as a procurer.
    2. To cater to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit their weaknesses:

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