by Michael Krapovicky| photography by Jose Leiva
SHELLY COOMBS is an integral part of the Lewiston Auburn music scene, performing both solo shows as well as being joined by some of the best musicians and singers in the area. A self-effacing smile and warm, friendly onstage demeanor complements Coomb’s tremendous vocal range and instrumental skill at both guitar and piano. Coombs and her band Goff Hill Rundown prove that professional performance can accentuate family relationships.
Like many professional performers, Coombs had family and church as her musical origins.
“I don’t remember not having music in my life; I learned three-part harmony with my sisters when I was really little.” Coombs relates. “My parents had us singing in church very young, and we always had fun singing there and at home.”
Coombs’ relations were very musically inclined, with guitar, piano, and saxophone players within her immediate family. Coombs followed their lead, taking piano lessons as a young girl. Then, when she got a bit older, Coombs picked up the guitar.
“During the ice storm of ‘98, I was bored, so I borrowed my mom’s guitar and a teach-yourself-guitar book and began learning to play,” recalls Coombs. “I was inspired by the guitar-playing women of the nineties, like Jewel and Alanis Morissette.”
Coombs played in school talent shows but honed her craft in church.
“I was in the choir, and later as a pastor’s wife, played piano and sang in church – that’s a huge part of where my roots live,” Coombs asserts. “I had always played secular stuff just for fun but never really got out of my comfort zone.”
In the mid-2010s, Coombs acted upon a need to perform in new settings. She attended an open mike in Lewiston at Pedro O’Haras and, despite initial reservations, found it a confidence-boosting experience.
“I played some tunes from my high school days by Sheryl Crow, Alanis, my go-to songs,” said Coombs. “I was really nervous, but it was great to play in a different setting.”
This inspired her to perform more and more, despite a full-time job and raising three children—Uriah, Arielle, and Eli. Her early engagements often were with then-husband Justin Carver, known professionally as The Better Half. Occasionally, Uriah would join his parents to perform a song on guitar and vocals.
In addition to the aforementioned women who helped shape Coombs’ style, many other female artists were influential to her over the years.
“Norah Jones and Carol King, as well as Sara Bareilles, are all women I admire as songwriters,” says Coombs. “Instrumentally, I love Bonnie Raitt; she’s an incredible singer and songwriter and can play slide guitar amazingly.”
Vocally, Coombs singles out one woman as particularly favored.
“My absolute favorite female vocalist is Linda Ronstadt,” says Coombs. “She can effortlessly sing any style of music – she has such a powerful voice.”
When Carver and Coombs divorced, Coombs was initially apprehensive about returning to professional performance. Still, the drive to play live remained, and Coombs found catharsis through her subsequent appearances.
“I was married so young; it was always a big part of my life,” said Coombs. ‘Getting myself out again afterward was transformative, and playing at open mikes again got me through a lot of the harder times.”
Coombs began playing shows at local venues, such as Lost Valley Ski Resort, with guitarist and singer Ray Cote, a longtime collaborator with Coombs in church.
‘Ray and I have a recurring gig at 84 Court Restaurant in Auburn, and his family and friends come out in a big group,” states Coombs. “It’s a wonderful experience to play with such a great friend.”
A big proponent of Coombs is local blues guitarist Ken Goodman, who has invited her to sit in with his band Continental Shakedown on many occasions. As the City of Auburn’s Blues and Brews Festival organizer in 2021, Goodman allotted her a 30-minute set and shared Continental Shakedown’s slot with her at the Great Falls Balloon Festival in 2022.
goff hill rundown
Over time, Coombs sought opportunities to play with a larger group, also seeking to create a musical setting for her son Uriah Carver to share as a family. She had musician friends living near Goff Hill in Auburn, and their shared experiences living in the area informed the band’s name, Goff Hill Rundown, which was formed in May of 2023.
Tony Morin was a founding member of The Farmhouse Project, a group of friends who played together for many years in the area. Morin was always looking to resume performance after the group disbanded and now shares lead vocal duties with Coombs and Carver, bringing a vibrant stage presence to the new venture.
Bassist and multi-instrumentalist Randall Walls and drummer Michael Vail are the band’s rhythm section. Vail’s drumming is featured in groups like Fake Feelings, SimpleCity, and The Hailing Tides.
With formidable instrumental chops and a unique four-part harmony sound, Goff Hill Rundown is an entertaining and engaging act that is becoming an integral part of the LA music community.
Coombs has used her skill and talent to enrich her life and those in her growing audiences. She wishes for women to make time for their own enjoyment, whether it be music or other creative pursuits.
“I would encourage young girls to sing and play instruments – do everything that makes them happy,” entreats Coombs. “Young adult women, make music an important thing; don’t let it be on the back burner.”
Coombs reiterates that having an avocation in music can be a positive outlet and a way to bring families closer. Some of Coombs’ children’s first Christmas presents were instruments.
“Music can go hand in hand with your parenting,” advises Coombs. “It’s important for our kids to see us out there doing things we love and are passionate about, so make sure you make time.”
Recording original music is in the works for Shelly Coombs, as well as continuing to put on shows in the LA area with Goff Hill Rundown, with Cote and other cohorts. And solo. Coombs strives to be a good example for women who seek to follow their passions.
“I’m happy for all the strange paths I’ve taken – I learned a lot from all those years of playing music for hours at a time, that it’s important to stand up for myself and be heard,” Coombs attests. “There is a place for women in local music, so let’s make it a priority.”