Aiken and Friends Music Fest in Smithfield to highlight songwriters this weekend

Daily Press

Aiken and Friends acoustic music festival, which has been held in Smithfield for more than a decade, will highlight local and national songwriters Friday and Saturday at Smithfield Little Theater.

Creator and musician Mike Aiken began the two-day grassroots festival 12 years ago, and held the first event in Urbana, Ill. However, Aiken and his wife, Amy, who have lived on a sailboat for about 26 years, wanted to host a festival that allowed boats to dock nearby. They discovered Smithfield the year after hosting in Urbana while outrunning a hurricane, Mike Aiken said.

“We fell in love with the town,” Aiken said.

Aiken attended a concert hosted by Smithfield Music, a nonprofit that hosts music performances and raises money for Isle of Wight County Public Schools’ music departments. There, he met the group’s founder Jim Abicht, and the two began collaborating on hosting the festival in the town.

“Over the next six months, we got more intrigued with the idea,” Aiken said. “It’s always sort of been a dream of mine to create a festival where you could take your boat to.”

Smithfield Music funds and presents the concert, and Aiken works to bring songwriters and musicians from all over to the show. Smithfield Music also attracts performers to the event. The festival’s proceeds are donated to the county schools’ music departments. Last year’s festival had more than 1,000 attendees, Abicht said.

“We all have a common purpose in this thing,” Abicht said. “We bill it as a celebration of songwriters, and that’s truly what it is.”

The event is a win-win because attendees can enjoy great music while also donating to local schools, Abicht said.

Friday is a “Songwriters-in-the-Round” event, featuring Mike Aiken, Linda McRae and Ken Tizzard, who will perform original songs and discuss the inspirations behind them.

“What we push is original music,” Aiken said. “Local writers and people from all over the country. It’s really a songwriter’s festival.”

Aiken said it can be difficult for artists to find venues to play their original works instead of popular covers. Saturday will include hour-long guitar, songwriting and indie music promotion workshops. The afternoon will feature 45- to 60-minute performances by three musicians. A “pickers’ tent” will also be open throughout the day as a space where musicians can gather and play together.

Saturday night will close with a multimedia concert by the Mike Aiken Band called “Tall Tails and Troubadours.”

Those who donate $5 at the event will be entered into a drawing to win a 1981 Martin D28 acoustic guitar.

Want to go?

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon to 1 p.m. (workshops), 3-7 p.m. (afternoon session), 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Smithfield Little Theater, 201 N. Church St., Smithfield. Some events will be outside the theater.

Tickets: Start at $10. Weekend passes are available.

More info: aikenandfriendsfest.com.

Smith can be reached by phone at 757-510-1663 or on Twitter @hillarysmith21.

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