Hundreds mourn, celebrate Doug Furze

The Beat Merchants perform in honor of fallen musician and activist Doug Furze Sunday, Dec. 27, at a packed Lyran Hall. Furze died of cancer Dec. 17 at his home. The memorial event included a eulogy service and live music from several area artists. Photo by Frank Schier

By Jim Hagerty

Staff Writer

Several hundred people gathered at Lyran Hall to honor fallen musician and activist Doug Furze Sunday, Dec. 27.

The day-long memorial featured a string of eulogies, each littered with memories of how Furze touched thousands of lives and influenced more than two decades of music and art in the Rock River Valley. Live music capped the evening.

Furze, also known as Boulas, died Thursday, Dec. 17, after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 50.

“When Doug first told me he was sick,” Furze’s friend, saxophonist Ryan Swanson, said during a eulogy, “he said he would not let the disease beat him, and he would fight it with song.”

Although Furze succumbed to cancer, he did, in fact, continue to sing, performing with Swanson and others until only a few weeks before he passed peacefully at his home surrounded by friends.

Judging by the applause after video footage of recent performances was played to a packed hall Sunday, whether cancer truly won out in the end is nothing short of questionable. Furze last performed in November at River Bluff Nursing Home, where he often played for seniors.

Live music included a set by the Beat Merchants, featuring Swanson and Harlan Jefferson. Lifelong friend and bassist in several of Furze’s bands (Blunatics, Boulas, etc.), Mike Coulahan, played a recorded song he wrote in Furze’s honor while members of a host of area bands, including several youth musicians, jammed to salute their fallen comrade.

Furze co-founded Concerts for Charity, a non-profit that raises money for local charities with proceeds from benefit concerts. Dom Sawchuk, co-founder of the organization, said the group was formed with local ties in mind. Furze’s mother died of cancer a decade ago while Sawchuk lost his wife to a battle.

“We could have started an organization that raised money for cancer, but we wanted to know we’d be helping people in the community,” Sawchuk said of Doug’s vision to help those in need.

Concerts for Charity has produced Hot Fest for Hospice, Catfish John Memorial Music Festival and many benefits.

Drummer Rick Lakin, a cancer survivor, spoke of the benefit Furze organized for his cause in 2003 and what he’s gained through their friendship.

“I met Doug in 1995 at Big Cities Lounge,” Lakin said. “I was looking for a band, and Nino (Gardona) said I should call (Blunatics singer) Jimmy Wendel, which led me to Doug. We became fast friends and, because of Doug Furze, I have all of you.”

The event was catered by Deli Italia. A portion of the beverage proceeds was donated to Concerts for Charity to help erect a memorial for Furze. A spring unveiling is being planned. Coulahan, Sawchuk and Kathy Ryan, who cared for Furze the last six months, said Concerts for Charity will continue.

“Doug was worried about his legacy and if Concerts for Charity and Hot Fest would live on,” Ryan said. “We promised him it would.”

Furze was given an annual Rockford Mayor’s Arts Award in October. Besides his 2001 Rockford Area Music Industry (RAMI) Award for Best Acoustic Performer, he was presented with an award for Lifetime Achievement at the Boulas Legacy Bash in July.

From the Dec. 30, 2009 – Jan. 5, 2010 issue

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