As with many events of deep significance, Joe Ed Coffman knows exactly where he was and what he was doing when he learned the musician Dan Fogelberg had died. It was Monday, Dec. 17, 2007. Coffman rose early in order to drive to Oklahoma.
“I got up, got a shower, got my cup of coffee, went out and got the newspaper like most people do, then went in and sat down,” says Coffman, a local dog trainer and musician. “On the left-hand side of the paper, it said, ‘Fogelberg Dead at 56.’ I’m telling you, my heart just crashed down to my feet. I thought, you’ve got to be kidding.”
A popular singer-songwriter whose career peaked in the 1970s and ’80s, Fogelberg passed away from advanced prostate cancer. He had first been diagnosed in 2004 only to achieve partial remission after a year of treatment. The cancer returned, and Fogelberg died at the age of 56.
Prostate cancer is the third-leading cause of death among American men, taking around 27,000 men every year. If caught early, however, it’s extremely treatable (see sidebar).
Fogelberg had been Coffman’s favorite artist, but the news that his idol had cancer was shocking news. “I didn’t even know he’d been suffering or battling any kind of cancer,” Coffman says.
That day in 2007, Coffman still made the trip to Oklahoma. He listened to Fogelberg CDs all the way there and back. A singer-songwriter himself, Coffman had first started playing guitar at the age of 16, which coincided with the rise of Fogelberg’s career. “Dan’s first album came out in 1971 and I was hooked right off the bat. I loved the Beatles, loved Elvis, all the rock-and-roll. But when I heard Dan Fogelberg it just really spoke to me.” More than becoming Coffman’s favorite artist, the free-living Fogelberg became something of a muse. “I patterned my lifestyle and the songs I wrote after his style. I just fell in love with his work.”
When Coffman returned home from the Oklahoma trip, he sought out fellow musicians to discuss Fogelberg’s death. He and Woody Key – of veteran Amarillo band Anderson, Flesher, and Key – talked about the news and cried together on the phone. Coffman and local pianist Bob Hopkins casually discussed organizing a tribute concert to Fogelberg, and maybe raising money for the national Prostate Cancer Foundation. They didn’t make any firm decisions, but Coffman couldn’t let go of the idea. If prostate cancer was so common among men, why had Coffman barely even heard about it?
It wasn’t like breast cancer, which could be just as deadly but had a much higher awareness due to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. “Breast cancer deserves all the attention it gets, but prostate cancer doesn’t get talked about. One time, breast cancer was like that,” Coffman muses. “I thought, ‘We need to do something for the guys.’”
Entrenched within Amarillo’s close-knit musical community, Coffman began asking fellow artists and friends if they’d be willing to participate in a Fogelberg tribute show. “Everyone that I talked to said ‘yes,’” he says. That’s when he committed to organizing the concert and donating any proceeds toward prostate cancer awareness.
Less than a year after Fogelberg’s death, the initial Friends of Fogelberg concert took place on Oct. 23, 2008. It raised $23,000, which the Safeway corporation matched with an equal donation. “We ended up donating over $46,000 to the Prostate Cancer Foundation that first year,” says Coffman. “That was a wonderful success. But I didn’t know there would be a second concert, let alone what we’ve got going now.”
What’s “going now” is one of the most popular concert events in Amarillo. The eighth concert in the now-annual Friends of Fogelberg series is scheduled for Sept. 7 and 8 at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. Billed as Friends of Fogelberg VIII (the first few shows occurred every two years), this marks the first year the concert has been expanded to two nights. “We sold out well in advance last year,” Coffman says. “We’ve been sold-out for several years, so we just thought we’d try for two shows. I got to thinking, ‘We’ll never know if two shows will work if we never try.’” He says this year’s participants were all more than willing to add an extra performance. “You work so hard at putting a show together but you do one performance and wham-bam, it’s done.”
Since that first show, Coffman and friends strive to keep the concerts fresh while maintaining a local focus. Instead of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, proceeds now benefit the Harrington Cancer and Health Foundation. (This year’s show happens to be splitting funds between HCHF and Olivia’s Angels, a local hospice support organization.) The content has changed, too. What was once entirely dedicated to the music of Dan Fogelberg has expanded to include other musicians in the singer’s orbit.
“Even though Dan Fogelberg had 20 albums, people respond better to things they recognize,” says Coffman. The Beatles were Fogelberg’s favorite band, so two concerts included covers of Beatles’ songs. Glenn Frey died in early 2016. He was a founding member of the Eagles, and Fogelberg opened for their concerts for several years. The music of Frey and the Eagles became the focus of last year’s show.
This year’s concert will include the usual Fogelberg hits alongside the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Coffman explains the connection: “One of Dan’s favorite bands was Buffalo Springfield,” he says. “Crosby and Nash were in there. [Graham] Nash also sang on some of Dan’s records.”
Each year’s concerts are hosted by Amarillo urologist Dr. Richard Kibbey – himself a prostate cancer survivor – and dedicated to someone connected to the cause. This year is dedicated to Dr. Dan Jenkins and Gil Farren. Jenkins was the medical director of Baptist St. Anthony’s Hospice of the Southwest until his death in September 2016. “He came to our show last year,” says Coffman. “A lot of folks knew him, and he passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack one week later. Even though he didn’t pass from prostate cancer, he exemplified all the good things we cherish in good people.”
Mary Gilbert “Gil” Farren also passed away last September. Her death followed a lengthy battle with breast cancer. The wife of Randall County District Attorney James Farren, Gil had been one of Jenkins’ hospice patients. “Dr. Jenkins had seen Gil the morning he passed away, and Gil ended up passing away one week later,” says Coffman. James Farren will give a tribute to his late wife at the Sept. 7 concert, and Dr. Randy Stewart will share about Jenkins during the Sept. 8 show.
With Friends of Fogelberg, raising awareness of prostate cancer is just as important as fundraising. On Saturday, Sept. 9 – after the two shows – free prostate cancer screenings are being offered at the 24 Hours in the Canyon Cancer Survivorship Center near 45th Avenue and Cornell Street. The screenings last from 9 a.m. until noon. The first 400 men to get screened will receive a coupon for a free “Fogelburger” from participating restaurants Youngblood’s Cafe, The Golden Light Cafe, Cowboy Gelato Smokehouse, and Blue Sky. “We’re calling it the First Annual Fogelburger Fest,” says Coffman.
From the concert itself to the screenings – and the Fogelburgers – Coffman has already succeeded in making more local men aware of prostate cancer and the need for screening and early detection. “Joe Ed is always coming up with unique ideas,” says Gainor Davis, executive director of the Harrington Cancer and Health Foundation (HCHF), which formed after the sale of Baptist-St. Anthony’s and the Harrington Cancer Center in 2013. Davis reports a recent Amarillo needs assessment found that prostate cancer was among the top three expected new cancer diagnoses among residents of Potter and Randall counties. (The other two are lung cancer and breast cancer.)
Since HCHF got involved with Friends of Fogelberg four years ago, it has provided more than 1,200 free screenings to local men. As a result, 44 of those men were flagged as having a high potential for prostate cancer and were encouraged to follow up with a urologist. “If we’ve saved 44 lives, I think that’s definitely significant,” Davis says. “And those are just the men who showed up at our screenings. There’s no way to put a number on men in the audience who went to their doctor or had other resources to get their PSA [prostate-specific antigen] tested. It really does encourage men to take care of their health and be responsible.”
Coffman has personally heard from half a dozen such men who said they owe their lives to the concerts (see sidebar). “The most gratifying thing is when you have someone come up to you and say, ‘You saved my life. I wasn’t thinking about prostate cancer and I got my PSA [tested] and sure enough I had cancer. Then I jumped through the hoops and now I’m cancer-free. Thank you,’” he says. “That will make a grown man cry.”