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Daxson Lewis brings traditional music studies experience to role as KCTM director 

daxson-lewis-imbedded.webpDaxson Lewis (Class of 2016) said that traditional music was heard playing at nearly any occasion or location, thanks to his paternal grandparents. Eventually, Lewis landed on his musical instrument of choice.  

"As I listened to this music, I was drawn to this particular sound. I didn't know what it was at the time," he said. "It was the banjo. I was drawn to that right off the bat."  

Lewis' affection for the Appalachian sound not only led him to enroll at Morehead State University's traditional music studies program as a student. It also helped him develop his talents and professionalism so he could guide future traditional music students as the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music director.  

Lewis had some unique performance experiences before he ever became an MSU Eagle. After convincing his dad to buy him a banjo and acoustic guitar for Christmas at age 11, the West Liberty native found himself on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry four years later alongside American Western band Riders in the Sky later as the recipient of Deering Banjo Company's Brian Friesen Award in 2008.  

"Once I got the chance to be on that historic stage, there was no question. This is what I needed to do," Lewis said. "Being able to have that experience at an early age lent some legitimacy that this could happen."  

Because Lewis had other interests and a desire to get a college education, he enrolled in MSU's nursing program and played music professionally on the weekends. To fulfill a work-study requirement, he worked at the front desk at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music (KCTM).  

"I'm sitting up front, you know, answering the phone doing clerical things, and I keep seeing these students walk by with banjos and guitars, and I can hear them in the back, and they are going to play shows," he said. "So, I start asking questions and it wasn't long before I changed majors."   

In addition to studying under the mentorship and performing alongside former KCTM director Raymond McLain with the McLain Family Band, Lewis also studied strategic communication and graduated with bachelor's degrees in traditional music studies and strategic communication in 2016. He said the two majors complemented each other "hand in glove" since he was learning audio and video production, writing and public speaking through strategic communication. The traditional studies program was doing more than helping him get better at his instrument.  

"(McLain) always said his goal was to help students realize their full potential, and he did that, but also learn how to live their lives in a positive and healthy way as an artist," Lewis said. "That's as important to what we do as anything."  

After graduation, Lewis continued to play professionally with the McLain Family Band and MSU graduates The Price Sisters (Leanna Price and Lauren Price Napier both graduated in 2017), as well as serving as a recording artist, publicist and tour manager. He became an adjunct instructor for KCTM from 2018-21, teaching traditional music history classes while leading student ensembles and providing private instruction on banjo, guitar and bass.  

Shortly after Lewis took time away from instruction, he began touring with the bluegrass group Dailey & Vincent starting in the fall of 2021. Raymond McLain retired as director of the KCTM in May 2022 and Lewis decided to apply for the director position.  

"My first thought was, gosh, I could never fill those shoes. Raymond was so great at being director and pushing this program forward," he said. "I can just be me and bring what I can to the table."  

embedded-news-mountain-music-ambassadors-550x650.webpLewis began serving as KCTM director in the fall of 2022 and his first semester at the helm was an exciting and successful one. The KCTM's touring student group, the Mountain Music Ambassadors, were invited to both the International Bluegrass Music Association Convention and to perform at the Industrial Strength Bluegrass Festival, an event in Ohio with festival headliners including The Del McCoury Band, The Grascals, Junior Sisk, the Dan Tyminski Band, and the Kody Morris Show.   

Lewis admits while he doesn't have McLain's abundance of touring and instructional experience, he said being the only KCTM director who has gone through the traditional music studies program has its advantages when connecting to students.  

"I think it allows me to pull from the things that really helped me," he said. "That mentorship that I had from these instructors, it's exciting to think that we are doing that for our current students.”  

Lewis said his goal is to continue KCTM's mission of offering a nationally accredited program in traditional music studies while doing everything to preserve and promote the musical heritage of the Appalachian region. Through connections and performances Lewis did with the McLain Family Band, KCTM welcomed its first exchange students from Hungary last year. He also wants to increase the program's social media presence and "do everything I can to increase top-of-mind awareness for our program."  

“There are ways to grow, and we are exploring those things,” he said. "The center has always been in good hands. Everyone has done great work, and I hope to just continue doing that."  

To learn more about MSU's Kentucky Center for Traditional Music and its programs, visit

Photo, upper right: Daxson Lewis, a graduate of MSU's traditional music studies program, is now the new director of the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music.

Photo, lower left (left to right): Lewis performs with the KCTM Mountain Music Ambassadors. Performers include Tommy Cole, Hayley King, Lewis, KCTM faculty member Ruth McLain Smith, Izaac Daniels and Tom Lyngklip. 

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