New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

BIG NEWS! Here's the 50th Issue of NJ Stage Magazine -- Click here

Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC

By Gary Wien

originally published: 09/14/2018

Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC(BRANCHBURG, NJ) -- Raritan Valley Community College presents Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch on Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22.  The three-day event will feature a number of different musical shows by Mike Aiken, as well as other solo artists and groups.  

Aiken is an Americana artist who released his seventh studio album, Wayward Troubadour, in June. New Jersey Stage spoke with him via email to learn more about the festival and why he brought it to New Jersey.

Tell me a little about the festival. What makes it unique?  
This is the little fest that could! 2018 will be the 13th year of the Aiken & Friends Fest.  Gary, if you dont know I've lived on various sailboats for the past 25+ years. 15 years ago while sailing up the east coast from the Bahamas to Maine I started thinking about how much diverse music happens along that coast line and that having a Fest that promotes and supports the musician and their original music would be a ball to be a part of. I've played music and city fests for years and often the artists arent treated the best BUT when your treated well you tend to play so much better. So one of the basic premises would be to treat the artist the best you possibly can. This has produced some amazing shows over the years.  This is not a cover band event, we want to provide a platform for creativity and original music.

The fest has always been a not for profit event. When and if there is a profit the fest supports youth music education. When the fest was in Smithfield VA we provided instruments for the area high schools, tutors for gifted kids, particle scholarships etc.  At RVCC any profits will go to help provide scholarships for the music dept.   

Why did you decide to add a second location to the festival? And how did you come about having it at RVCC? Had you performed there before?  
The Mike Aiken Band was booked into the theater at RVCC about 4 years ago. At the end of that show I was sitting with Alan Liddle (the theater director) and he asked me about the fest. He can down to the AFF in VA for the next 3 years to check it out. After the fest in 2016 he asked if I thought I could bring the same format to RVCC. I said sure. So working togrther with Alan and his staff we have done just that. And here we are at year two.  The location and layout of the campus is a natural and exicting place for this type of event and there is a big potential for growth.

The article continues after this ad


How did you set up the lineup this year?  Are these bands you know well?  
It is called the Aiken & Friends Fest for a reason. I've been a touring musician for a fair amount of time and over the years I've been lucky enough to have established relationships and made a lot of good friends.  For a night like the Friday kick off "writers in the round show" having the right songwriters from the view point of personalities that work well together on stage can make the difference between a good evening and a great one. I work hard to bring in artists that I've worked with before and I know will work well together.  Take this years line up of Salley Jaye, Brian Ashley Jones and my self...  We had played a sold out show at the Bluebird Cafe' in Nashville that was a ball. So I asked them both to come to Branchburg with me.  As far as the bands go... I play a lot of Festivals and get to see a lot of bands. I'm always keeping my eyes and ears open for a good fit both musicaly and attitude wise.

I see there are a few spots to open mic winners.  How does that work? Is there an open mic during the festival or is this from an RVCC open mic competition? 
 We started this in VA and the approach worked well. We want to give the local songwriters  a chance to be a part of the fest. There are original song open mic nights at local venues when writers can sign up the play their songs. Two winners are chosen and they get to open for my show on the theater stage saturday night. They also get all access passes for the complete fest including workshops and hospitalities. Then they have the option to have a paid slot on the quad stage the following year.  

Tell me about the workshops during the Fest. 
We provide 3 workshops. 
1) Songwriting workshop- I host this and this year Sally Jaye will co host. I work to have an open dialogue to ascertain what the attendees want out of it.  I'm not looking to critique songs per say. Many of the ares covered are co writing vs writing alone. The creative process. The business of being a song writer. Casually writing vs professional writing.
2) Guitar workshop- Brian Ashley Jones will host this year be side being a great songwriter and the guitarist in my band he is a sought after Nashville session player.  He will cover all sorts of ground from beginner to more advanced.  Its a good to be able to get tips from this level of professional.
3) Indie Music Promotion - Amy Aiken will host this. She has owned Northwind Records for 15 years, has taken songs to number 1, handled the touring schedule, promotion etc for many artists. She will cover many aspects of how to help build your career.

Finally, what is your favorite part of the festival?  
Besides playing my shows at the fest the AFF is about building a supportive festival community and family. Its seeing new writers shine, its being open to learning from the other bands.  But what really rocks is watching the audience when they discover a new band or artist, and smiles come on faces and toes tap and for a little while its ALL about the music!

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL - The three-day event will feature a number of different musical shows by Mike Aiken, as well as other solo artists and groups, starting with a residency activity, Blues Evolution, at 1:00pm on Thursday, September 20, with the M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio, discussing the evolution of the Piedmont Blues style, how it reflected life at that time and how it has influenced music styles since. MSG will perform a few songs along with a Q&A session.The conversation will be facilitated by Roger Shutack, an adjunct in History at RVCC.

The Fest continues Friday night with Songwriters-in-the-Round, featuring Mike Aiken, Sally Jaye and Brian Ashley Jones performing their original works and talking about their writing and what inspires them (ticketed). The trio most recently did this program on the In the Round series at The Bluebird Café in Nashville.

Saturday begins at noon with three concurrent, 60-minute workshops in guitar (Brian Ashley Jones), songwriting (Mike Aiken) and indie music promotion (Amy Aiken). Weekend pass holders can enroll in the class of their choice. Remaining seats will be offered for a $10 fee.

Saturday afternoon’s events are free and open to the public and this year are offered as a Community Day in Celebration of RVCC's 50th Anniversary. They include Concert on the Quad, a music stage with sets by Jo Stones & Phil Swanson, MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches, and Session Americana. Also included will be a drop-in Pickers Tent where local musicians are invited to play together and some organized activities for the kids. Food will be available for purchase throughout the afternoon and local craft vendors will be offering their wares. And, as part of Community Day, the Planetarium will offer free laser shows, the college art gallery will be open, and RVCC Cosmetology students will be giving free hand and arm massages.

Fest closes with another ticketed event, Tall Tales & Troubadours, a concert by Mike Aiken. Leading up to Fest, there have been two open mics, the winners of which, Benjamin Damiano & Macheis Wind have been invited to open for the Saturday night concert.

For more information, click here.

Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC


For more by this author, click here

State Theatre Presents Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet Tour
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey presents Diana Krall live in concert as part of her Turn Up The Quiet World Tour on Friday, October 12 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $43-$153.50.  This concert will feature songs from Diana Krall’s stunning new album, Turn Up The Quiet, out now on Verve Records as well as a mix of some fan favorites. 
Kean Stage Presents The Manhattan Transfer
(UNION, NJ) -- Going strong after more than 45 years, Grammy Award winner The Manhattan Transfer, with tenor vocals from Kean University alumnus Alan Paul '71, will captivate Kean Stage audiences with their distinctive four-part harmonies at Enlow Recital Hall on Sunday, September 30 at 3:00pm.
3rd Annual North Jersey Indie Rock Festival
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- The North Jersey Indie Rock Festival returns to Jersey City on October 6. Presented by Mint 400 Records and Sniffling Indie Kids, the festival includes acts from those labels and Little Dickman Records, Rhyme and Reason Records, and State Champion Records.  The festival takes place at White Eagle Hall. Doors are at 4:00pm and the music starts at 4:30pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
The Dryden Ensemble Presents Bach Cantata Fest
(PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Dryden Ensemble will present a Bach Cantata Fest on Saturday, October 20 at 7:30pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 6587 Upper York Road, Solebury, Pennsylvania, and on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00pm at Miller Chapel, located on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey. Tickets are $25 for general admission and free to students with an ID. They may be purchased at the door or online at
Steve Barton & Robert Darlington From Translator To Perform at Randy Now's Man Cave
(BORDENTOWN, NJ) -- Whether it's pure pop or moody acoustic ballads, singer/songwriter/guitarist, Steve Barton, has developed a reputation for crafting some of the most literate and poignant music in underground rock.  In addition to being a founding member of the revered punk/psychedelic band Translator, perhaps best known for the Barton-penned song "Everywhere That I'm Not", he has released several solo albums.  The seventh and latest, "Tall Tales and Alibis", is a sprawling triple album tour de force filled with Steve's brand new songs, which was released in March by Sleepless Music.   To celebrate the release of the record, Barton will be making a rare live appearance with his Translator partner Robert Darlington, this Sunday, September 23 at Randy Now's Man Cave in Bordentown (134 Farnsworth Ave) at 7:00pm.  

From the Ballpark to the Concert Stage: Bernie Williams LIVE! at The Grunin Center
Fans of sports and music are lining up outside Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center of the Arts this Saturday, September 8, 2018 for a concert by four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist/composer Bernie Williams and his All-Star Band!
“Here’s Lucie!” Lucie Arnaz LIVE! at the PNC Bank Arts Center
Even though the weather outside Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center is cloudy with some light intermittent drizzle this Wednesday, September 12, 2018 afternoon, the venue’s stage is still shining brightly with talent thanks to a live performance by television, film, and stage actress/singer Lucie Arnaz!
Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC
(BRANCHBURG, NJ) -- Raritan Valley Community College presents Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch on Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22.  The three-day event will feature a number of different musical shows by Mike Aiken, as well as other solo artists and groups.  
Virtuoso Jazz Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty LIVE! at the Newton Theatre
It’s a warm but lovely Aug. 23, 2018 evening here in Newton, NJ. After enjoying some hand-dipped Cliff’s ice cream from the window at Hayek Market, we march up Spring Street looking forward to hearing some world-class jazz at one of the Garden State’s favorite concert venues, The Newton Theatre.
An Interview with Bernie Williams
Four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist and composer Bernie Williams will perform with his All-Star Band at the Jersey Shore this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at The Grunin Center of the Arts in Toms River, NJ!

Event calendar
Saturday, Sep 22, 2018


Asbury Park Porchfest @ Booskerdoo, Asbury Park - 12:00pm

Carl Chesna & Co. @ Hotel Tides, Asbury Park - 1:00pm

Echoes @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

Cole Swindell @ Hard Rock Live Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 8:00pm

GRUPO NICHE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

The History of Motown @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Drake Bell @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

Classic Stones Live feat. The Glimmer Twins @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Opera Theatre of Montclair Presents Hansel and Gretel @ Central Presbyterian Church, Montclair - 4:00pm

Oscar D’León with Tony Vega and Los Hermanos Moreno @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 8:00pm

SunDog Band at Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ @ Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ, Paterson - 9:00pm

Celtic Thunder X @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Young Person's Concert @ River Dell Middle School Auditorium, River Edge - 1:00pm

Tigerman record release show for “Descend Into Savagery” @ Debonair Music Hall, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Hubby Jenkins @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm


Souvenir @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 8:00pm

East Lynne Theater Company presents SILENT SKY @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Incorruptible @ Ritz Theatre Company, Haddon Township - 8:00pm

West End Festival of the Arts- Theatre Brut Session 2 @ West End Arts Center, Long Branch - 2:00pm

Evita @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Seuls en Scene French Theater Festival - "Claire, Anton et Eux" @ Class of 1970 Theatre, Whitman College, Princeton - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

HUMAN ERROR by Eric Pfeffinger @ West Windsor Arts Center, Princeton Junction - 8:00pm

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Assisted Living: The Musical @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Brick City @ Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union - 3:00pm


SWAN LAKE - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 7:00pm

SOLE Defined @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm


Monthly Saturday Writing Retreats @ Tiferet Journal, Bernardsville - 9:00am

View all events


more in music



An Interview With Linda Ronstadt

Pat Foran: The Art of Economizing Songs

Makin Waves Record Roundup - Chris Rockwell, Levy & the Oaks, The Burns, and Avery Mandeville

The Wag Celebrates 20 Years

Bongo Boy TV - Issue 50

For more on our awards, click here

New Jersey Stage © 2018 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.