Shelly Dixon’s musical idols are Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks, among many others. “Definitely, I am covetous and envious of everyone who got to see Stevie Nicks in concert,” she said. “I’m still not over it. I had the shawl and everything. Her style, her voice, her writing, her presence.”
There are musicians in Fort Wayne who look up to Dixon the way Dixon looks up to Nicks – a fact that Dixon didn’t fully appreciate until recently.
In May, Dixon’s 26-year-old son, Jordan Frevert, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. For a parent, such news is a nightmare made real. Luckily, the location of the tumor allowed doctors to remove 95 percent of it. The tumor turned out to be benign, which doesn’t mean it can’t return and wreak future havoc.
Dixon and Frevert have been through a lot together. Dixon had to give up her award-winning band and a robust performance schedule in 2005 to raise Frevert. Being a single mother was a labor of love that prohibited all other labors of love.
“The big part in that was my son was young,” she said, “so it was just very difficult to be trying to make that stuff happen. I missed it terribly. I always felt something was missing. You can do what you love, but you have to pay the bills. That reality is always the same reality.”
About six years ago, reality had settled down enough to allow Dixon to ease her way back onto the music scene, performing in a duo with guitarist Jeff McRae.
Assembling a full band remains a dream and a goal, she said, but coordinating the schedules of five people is a lot harder than coordinating the schedules of two.
“I admire what Jeff and I accomplish with the two of us,” she said. “We have that freedom to do whatever we want to do, really.”
The challenge of assembling a band in Fort Wayne, McRae said, is that the good players get more offers than they can possibly take people up on.
They usually play in multiple bands, he said, and are inclined to walk away from this or that without regret.
“If something isn’t working out, they let it go,” McRae said.
As a failed guitar player who is a little wistful about that failure, Dixon said she is mostly happy to cede those duties to McRae.
“I don’t have to wrest it from her hands,” McRae said.
“I can only look at it,” Dixon said. “I can’t touch it. I am allowed to carry it in sometimes.”
It can be difficult, McRae said, for an acoustic duo with the souls of electric bluesmen to find places to play.
“It’s hard to find a place that’s right for you,” he said. “You are either trying to replicate a hard rock sound in an acoustic setting or you are doing more vocals and trying to sound pretty. We have to adjust our music depending on the venue.”
All in all, things were going pretty well for Dixon last spring when her son, taking a break from missionary work in Ecuador, had a grand mal seizure.
“That’s how we found out (about the tumor),” she said. “He’d been living in Ecuador. He was here to visit for several weeks and it happened while he was here, thank God. It still blows my mind, the timing of him coming back here.”
Dixon said they got three expert medical opinions and the conclusion was the same: immediate surgery.
“He was put on seizure medicine but it was so large already and pushing, of course, on his brain,” she said. “There was urgency.”
In the jungles of Ecuador, Frevert would not have been able to find and receive adequate medical treatment, Dixon said.
“He might not have lived,” McRae said.
Frevert’s job in Ecuador at the time involved carrying a 150-pound boat motor up the side of a mountain every day.
He has since returned to Ecuador, Dixon said, but he lets someone else carry the motor.
She said her son handled the diagnosis and the subsequent treatment with grace and unstinting positivity.
“While he was here, all he could think about was what was going on there,” she said.
Dixon admits that she didn’t want him to go back, but she never asked him to stay.
“I supported him trying to get back there,” she said.
Frevert is generally out of the range of the sort of communication most of us take for granted these days. He has arranged, Dixon said, to get regular MRIs in Ecuador and have the data sent to Indianapolis for interpretation.
In the meantime, Dixon waits.
The exorbitant cost of cancer treatment in the states is lost on no one, regardless of whether they have had to cover that cost.
So local musicians organized a summer benefit at Bar 145 and raised $5,000, McRae said.
“It was fantastic,” Dixon said. “That day just really, really showed me how much people cared. It drew a great crowd.
“They had never even met my son, most of them,” she said. “They did that for me for him.”
It says a lot about the Fort Wayne music scene, McRae said.
“How they see themselves as family,” he said.
Dixon said she is shy and a loner by disposition. But the fundraiser helped her see her life in a different way.
“Sometimes you feel alone in the world,” she said. “But I keep thinking back to that day. I got up and thanked everyone for coming and said, ‘My son and I came to Fort Wayne, and we didn’t know anybody here.’ And I’m like ‘Now look at us. We’re surrounded by all these people who not only know us but love us enough to reach out like this.’”
The ordeal has changed Dixon’s perspective on many things.
It made her mad, at first, mostly at herself.
“It made me realize what’s important,” she said. “‘How dare I complain about things?’ ‘How dare I let other people around me complain about things?’ Gratitude. Through the roof.”
The music took on new meaning.
“Songs that we have done all these years,” Dixon said. “I couldn’t sing them. Stevie Nicks’ ‘Landslide.’ I would just get into that and get choked up.”
She said it has made her more grateful for what she has and less focused on what she doesn’t.
“It has made me understand the great things that are happening,” she said. “Between paid gigs and selling my jewelry, I am surviving. I don’t have a 401K. But my happiness? It’s where it has never been.”