Covered in sunblock and with a smile permanently inked to her face, Lorna Dixon stood backstage last weekend meeting dozens of musicians but mainly waiting for one.
It took the 26-year-old two trains, three planes and a cab ride to get from Corby, England, to Guthrie for Queen of the Prairie, an inaugural Americana music festival in Cottonwood Flats.
But the road to this moment was more rugged than dealing with customs; it was filled with a harsh reality that at age of 16 she might be greeting death before she was ready.
“Cancer has a domino effect on your whole life,” Dixon said, “especially when you have it as a teenager like I did.”
But it all seemed worth it when Dixon met JD McPherson on Friday. He remembered her right off the bat. It was like seeing a light bulb illuminate.
“Woah,” McPherson said with a smile. “What are you doing here?”
The festival’s modest turnout, a headache, a sunburn couldn’t erase the look of pure jubilation on Dixon’s face as she met McPherson and later watched his band close the first night of the festival.
McPherson, a Broken Arrow native, absolutely killed it onstage with his effortless charm and rocking charisma oozing from his feisty set of old school rock ’n’ roll, making it nearly impossible not to clap along to his vivacious rhythms.
For Dixon, seeing McPherson is always a blast.
“I just forgot about everything for one night,” Dixon said of seeing him live for the first time. “It was such a relief to just enjoy myself.”
At 16, Dixon was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks your immune system. Dixon said she was treated in a children’s ward; at times surrounded by toddlers and babies with a similar diagnosis. Of the 25 or so patients she was treated alongside, only Dixon and one other lived.
After being treated, Dixon’s struggles were far from over.
Cancer experts say that more than 60 percent of children treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma develop one or more chronic health conditions and that anywhere between 20 to 80 percent experience severe or life-threatening complications during adulthood.
This was Dixon’s first battle, but it might not be her last.
“When you come out the other side, they think you’re out of the woods because that’s all they can see with their own eyes,” Dixon said. “But they can’t see that the woods extend much farther than they realize.”
Dixon’s life took an upturn in 2014. Queens of the Stone Age toured in support of “…Like Clockwork,” and it was enough to attract Dixon and her friends to visit the U.S. for the band’s final tour date of the year. The Halloween show was a spectacle. The L.A. Record reported, the show boasted a haunted house, sideshow freaks and QOTSA lead singer Josh Homme dressed as a priest.
But Dixon remembered one thing.
McPherson opened the concert and something changed in her. The dark, isolating “… Like Clockwork” album helped Dixon feel like she wasn’t crazy but it also kept her stuck in the past. McPherson’s music was something different, a breakthrough.
Dixon and her friends hit the road and followed McPherson and caught him twice again before she returned home and saw him two more times in England. She still wears the guitar pick McPherson handed her at a show after he recognized her.
“I love JD’s music because it’s so lighthearted,” Dixon said. “I swear, every time I’ve seen JD play, no matter how many miles they’ve traveled, how tired they are … or much they must be missin’ home, they always bring the party without fail.”
That same energy fueled her trip to California. It’s also what got her to Oklahoma.
When McPherson saw Dixon in Guthrie, his face was priceless. He paused and greeted her quickly. He said he even remembered seeing her last in Brighton.
“It’s amazing,” he said afterward. “It’s like you’re having all these thoughts and feelings at once when you see someone at shows that are so far apart. I don’t know how to explain it other than it’s a real big rush of crazy, complicated emotions.”
But mostly, he couldn’t believe she was in Guthrie.
Inside of the Prairie Gothic gift shop, McPherson recorded a music video for NewsOK and Dixon dropped by the store to meet him for the first time. She’d been hanging out there with store owner and Queen of the Prairie organizer Christie Clifford, who sort of adopted Dixon for the weekend.
Dixon hung out and watched him perform in the upstairs venue. After he wrapped up, he spoke with me for a minute.
“Going out with new songs and having people respond and sing along is the best feeling in the world,” McPherson said.
And he had one parting message to the fan who traveled the furthest for the festival: “It means a lot, Lorna.”