Tuning up a friendship: Lexington resident offers guitar to once-ailing friend



By Anne Halliwell

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A $12,000 charity guitar has become a tangible reminder of an amazing week and 15 years of friendship.

Lexington resident Brett Stacy gifted the Lockn’ Music Festival’s signed guitar to his friend Johnny Dawson, who almost died from a respiratory disease.

Stacy, who runs e-cigarette business Nic-O-Tyme in Lexington, brought Dawson, to the festival in Arrington, Va. as a celebration of Dawson’s defeat of pleurisy, a lung inflammation, about a month earlier.

“For my work, for the last few years, I’ve been to a lot of festivals,” said Dawson, 29, who works for the Eden’s Rose Foundation, based in Albany, NY. He said he’d mentioned the Lockn’ music festival to Stacy before he got sick as “the one to catch” with a lineup that included Willie Nelson, Tom Petty and the Allman Brothers Band.

“Before the tidal wave of life hit us, I really wanted to go out there with him,” Dawson said. “He’s my best buddy.”

Stacy, 32, whose mother attended UK, said Dawson actually died twice on the operating table during a six-week stay in the hospital in mid-May.

Dawson made a living will before the procedure, he said, and had involved Stacy in what could have been his last wishes.

“When I was on my deathbed, essentially, and signing away my life,” Dawson said, “I was like, ‘Hey, man, would you like my guitars?’”

Stacy’s adamant refusal to take the guitars and Dawson’s subsequent reovery set the tone for the festival trip, Dawson said.

“I figured, ‘What better celebration than to take him to the greatest music festival?’” Stacy said.

The Lockn’ festival, which took place on Sept. 4-7, raised a total of $55,000 to be shared between the 25 nonprofits in “Participation Row” at the event. Two guitars were signed by many of the performing artists, said Andy Bernstein, executive director of HeadCount, a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging participation in democracy.

The money from the auctions is divided between the nonprofits, while festival goers can sign petitions to earn raffle tickets for the second guitar, Bernstein said.

“It was an emotional weekend,” Dawson said. His work in the nonprofit community and absence due to his illness meant the presence of the nonprofit organizations, including Eden’s Rose, felt like a family reunion to him.

As Dawson made his way down the festival’s row of nonprofit organizations, Stacy bid on the signed guitar, knowing that the instrument was a one-of-a-kind souveneir.

After a “bidding war,” Stacy walked away with the guitar, signed by most of the festival’s performers, for $12,200. His next action was to offer the guitar to Dawson.

“I decided, ‘Hey, one more nice thing I can do for one of my best friends,’” Stacy said.

Stacy was happy to support the charities involved as well, he said.

“I’ve been gifted great prosperity in the last few years,” Stacy said. “(I’m) glad to pay it back to people who are less fortunate than ourselves.”

Dawson has since refused to accept complete ownership of the guitar, Stacy said, which is currently on display at their house and could remain there for years.

“It’s just the most overwhelming thing,” Dawson said. “He’s just done so much already … he’s got a heart of gold.”

The guitar could be sold in the future, Stacy said, or it could remain with the two of them for generations.

“It’s kind of a representation of our friendship and what we’ve meant to each other for these last 15 years,” Dawson said.