Ashley Lewis

Bluegrass Artist Ashley Lewis Named Waubonsee “Fab 40”

Waubonsee Community College has named Ashley Lewis, seen here with her mandolin, one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” for her accomplishments in the field of music and for her academic success in the classroom.
Sugar Grove — There aren’t too many college sophomores anywhere who possess the professional musical experience and career that Waubonsee Community College sophomore Ashley Lewis has. However, she is also a top student and has been named one of the college’s “Fabulous 40.”

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

Lewis’ life has always revolved around a love for music — especially bluegrass. Her home schooling gave her the opportunity to pursue music, with a special passion for the mandolin. She began performing on stage at age 7 with her mother at music festivals throughout the South.

“I desperately wanted to get on stage during a music contest,” she said. “When it ended, I won $75, and I was addicted to the stage.”

She recorded her first CD at age 16, and it was released a year later. On “Past Presence,” recorded with her band, Ashton Gap, many of the songs were inspired by the memories of her great and great-great grandparents from LaRue County, Kentucky. On “Past Presence” Lewis is lauded for her mandolin quadruplets in “Mountain Memories,” to the haunting fiddle and Pitney harmony on “Sterett’s Last Run.” She also wrote the songs on the CD.

“Bluegrass is, to me, an American heritage,” she said. “All my family is from Kentucky, so it’s in my blood.”

A lifelong resident of Sandwich, Lewis has received seven artist assistance grants from the Illinois Arts Council program for bluegrass mandolin in the Master/Apprentice Program. She is the master student of Jeffrey Midkiff. Lewis recently performed on the “Arts Across Illinois” television special broadcast on WTTW Channel 11. In her brief career, Lewis already has influential friends in the industry, including noted bluegrass artist Dale Ann Bradley.

In addition to a heavy performance schedule in the spring, summer and fall months, Lewis and her mother coordinate the annual Fiddle Contest at the Sandwich Fair, and they sponsor and coordinate the Harding Show and Jam for area musicians each month at the Harding Community Building in Harding. Lewis and Ashton Gap have the special honor of performing this October at the International Bluegrass Music Association in Nashville. Ashton Gap is currently working on their next album, “Here I Stand,” which is set to be released in spring 2008.

Off the stage, Lewis has also found success. The music performance major has taken several honors courses and has been on the college’s President’s List, for students with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society of two-year colleges, and was the 2006-2007 recipient of the Waubonsee Community College Foundation Performing Arts Scholarship.

“Waubonsee definitely opened up so many doors for me musically,” she said. “I’ve had a well-rounded education. Waubonsee really feels like an extended family. I’ve met some of my best friends here. I’ve been taken aback by the kindness of everyone.”

Although Lewis initially looked at four-year institutions, one meeting with Music Professor Gibby Monokowski convinced her that Waubonsee was the right place for her.
“He makes learning fun,” Lewis said of Monokowski. “He cares so much about each individual student and helps them reach their full potential. He’s the best professor I’ve ever known. He makes sure you do your best.” Lewis found Waubonsee’s natural environment at the Sugar Grove Campus conducive to her learning as well.

“The campus is so beautiful,” she said. “I love that the school has so many big trees that you can hang out and do homework under them. I think Waubonsee has the best atmosphere of a four-year school and personal attention of a two-year school.”

A highlight of her time at Waubonsee was playing a concert this past spring in the college’s Auditorium, accompanied on piano by her mentor, Monokowski.

“Waubonsee has been exactly what I needed,” she said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s everything I wanted in my education and more.”

Lewis plans to graduate with an Associate in Fine Arts Degree and then transfer to a school that has a bachelor’s degree program featuring a minor in bluegrass music. After completing her bachelor’s degree, her goal is to continue her career in music.