Thank Michael J. Fox's character Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” for one of the Susquehanna Valley’s most popular musical entertainers.
Allan Combs II will perform Friday night at the Front Street Station, in Northumberland, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Combs, of Bloomsburg, was 10 or 11 years old when he saw Fox playing that red Gibson electric guitar in a memorable scene from “Back to the Future.”
“It kind of blew me away,” Combs said, and from there he learned to play the guitar and even build his own.
Combs’ close friend and band member Bryan Noaker is a luthier, someone who makes stringed instruments like guitars. When Combs gets an idea for the kind of “weird, tricky things a guitar can do,” he takes it up with Noaker.
“He’s one of the greatest guitar builders and fixers I know,” Combs said.
Combs made one guitar that he uses daily but he “constantly swaps out parts” to adjust its capabilities. He’s been a full-time musician and guitar teacher for the past six years.
“With the pandemic going on, it’s been interesting,” he said. “Definitely a change of pace from playing 200 shows a year, all over Pennsylvania.”
During the pandemic, Combs set up a livestream show called “Live from Allan’s Alcove.” He soon had people sending him posts and photos showing them watching his performance online.
“It was really, really cool to see the amount of support from everyone for the entire industry,” he said. “Whether on Facebook or in-person, when we can be.”
Necessity being the mother of invention, he was forced to learn more about the audio and technological aspects of setting up his streaming shows, which led to an unexpected sideline of helping businesses set up their own streaming capabilities. Whatever happens in the future, he does expect to continue with his online presence, probably doing more streaming shows in the colder winter months and, with social distancing practices, in-person shows in the summer.
“It’s not just about keeping me safe and my family safe, but everyone else,” he said, adding, “But I’m really hoping for live shows in the summer.”
Jay Seidel, owner of the Front Street Station, is looking forward to Combs’ act Friday.
“He’s played here a lot of times,” Seidel said. “We really like him.”
Live music provides an escape from the everyday, mundane routine of our lives, Combs said.
“I feel it’s the healthiest escape you can have,” he said. “The best addiction you can have is music. That’s why my band’s name is Allan Combs’ Soul Medicine.”
Playing in front of a live audience creates a symbiotic relationship for Combs.
“They’re happy, and I’m happy. It’s just such a great thing to do for a living,” he said. “I mean, there’s not a lot of people that get to follow their dreams.”
Based out of Lewisburg, the group plays originals and covers in “an array of genres including R&B, Blues, Funk, Rock n' Roll, Rockabilly, and Soul,” according to their Facebook page.
The group consists of Combs on guitar, Noaker on keyboard, Sean Madden on drums, and Tim Latshaw on bass. All the members also join in on vocals.
“I’m really lucky I get to play with, who I think are, the best musicians around. It’s truly the honor of my life to play with them. They all push me to be a better musician and a better person on the daily,” Combs said, adding that studio musicians don’t get the credit they deserve. “They’re like the unsung heroes.”
Allan Combs’ Soul Medicine started working on a new album in November of 2019 and hopes to finish it this year.
“We’re doing it all on our own, self-recording, self-produced,” Combs said. “That’s the big goal for 2021. Get the album out. People need something to listen to as well (as live entertainment).”
More immediately, Combs will perform solo at the Front Street Station Friday night.
“He’s good,” Seidel said. “He’s got a fantastic following.”
On Saturday, Front Street Station will host Frank Wicher while Combs performs at Iron Vines Winery, in Sunbury, and on Jan. 22 at McGuigan’s Public House, also in Sunbury.
“Sunbury really loves me, and I love Sunbury,” he said.
Combs sympathizes with local eateries that have had such a challenging time throughout the pandemic and looks forward to performing in them again.
“I have a lot of shows lined up, and I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s so good to see everyone following safe practices so the bars and restaurants can get back to business. It makes me so happy.”
Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email comments to her at CindyOHerman@gmail.com