In duets

Generally speaking, duet albums come in two forms. There are those that feature stunt casting such as the upcoming Last Man Standing, which finds Jerry Lee Lewis supported by everybody from Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton to Kid Rock and Don Henley. Then there’s the honest-to-goodness, “sing about the good times but sing more about the bad times because that’s a helluva lot more fun” kind that tend to be country records (for reasons we could discuss here if we had another couple of hundred words). CAITLIN CARY AND THAD COCKRELL crafted one of the latter last year in Begonias, and it was one of 2005’s best, the sound of two singing, writing and interpreting triple-threats getting together and making it look easy. Cockrell, who left the Triangle for Nashville a few years back, has worked and willed himself into a country singer to be reckoned with, and Cary has done the same to forge an impressive post-Whiskeytown solo career. Hear the best of Begonias and discover what else the pair has worked up since when they play Raleigh’s THE POUR HOUSE on Friday, Sept. 15. The show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. –Rick Cornell

In good ideas

So a conference doesn’t sound like your idea of weekend entertainment? SPARK CON is more than people talking and trading business cards. This inaugural gathering of designers, architects, geeks, indie business owners and other creative types in Raleigh has hooked up with a host of other activities, from the STREET PAINTING FESTIVAL in CITY MARKET, FILM SCREENINGS in MOORE SQUARE and at KINGS, a Friday night FASHION SHOW, a GALLERY TOUR, an IMAGE SLAM and, naturally, live music by LITTLE BROTHER, WORLD PARTY, TRES CHICAS and many more. So even if you don’t set foot in a conference room, there’s bound to be something that will spark your interest. Then, of course, you might be in the mood to swap ideas. For a full schedule of events happening Sept. 14-17, visit –Fiona Morgan

In bugs and bands

The N.C. MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCES’ BUGFEST returns to Raleigh Saturday, Sept. 16 at 9 a.m. as the biggest single-day bug-based event in the country. This year, take delight in paranormal pleasures like bee beards, a roach racetrack and wax-worm quiche. A collection of vintage VW Beetles will be on display, as well as a buggy sand sculpture and a collection of bugs on film. Several hands-on, classroom-based activities explore the definition of being a bug and the mystery of the dung beetle for the curious. Music rolls throughout the day and into the adult-oriented Twilight Zone portion of the program, which begins at 5 p.m. The Alberti Flea Circus, a sitar performance from Viswas Chitnis, the delicate twang of Regina Hexaphone and Dexter Romweber’s swagger masters in The New Romans are all on tap. The Countdown Quartet supplies the spirits at 7:45 p.m. Best yet, it’s all free.

In moving on

For bluegrass purists, NICKEL CREEK is a pop dark horse in a genre of traditionalists. But the charismatic newgrass trio never did seem to mind pushing a few buttons in the musical world. Despite flack from heritage holders, the trio pushed their instruments and arrangements out of their collective comfort zone and into uncharted territories. That’s why it’s not unusual to hear fiddler Sara Watkins, guitarist Sean Watkins and mandolin player Chris Thile perform reworked arrangements of the Beatles’ “Taxman,” Britney Spear’s “Toxic” or Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time.” Genre-bending was a staple of the band’s albums, casually incorporating elements of jazz, indie rock and classical music to full-blown prog-rock experimentation on last year’s Why Should the Fire Die? But the group recently decided to take an “indefinite break” from their 17-year-long partnership. The reason for the split is vague at best (perhaps brother Watkins and Thile plan to devote more time to solo projects?), but the bottom line is this is their last tour on the docket. They perform Tuesday, Sept. 19 at UNC-CHAPEL HILL’S MEMORIAL HALL at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $24-$45. For more, see –Kathy Justice

In bright ideas

Athens’ DARK MEAT may be the most noticeable, challenging and exuberant band to emerge from that Southern hotbed in years. A 20-plus member collective of neighbors and friends and psychedelic-savoring pals who work downtown by day and take the party to sylvan haunts by nightfall, Dark Meat–led by a handful of Greensboro expatriates–gathers strains of free jazz triumph, Zeppelin-epic songcraft and rock ‘n’ roll righteousness into nine-minute utopias. They sweat and stink and simmer like the Southern band they are, and their big-band approach may make ultimate good on that whole New Weird America promise by going at it like vandals running barefoot on hot Georgia asphalt. Their live shows are legendary, and their debut, Universal Indians, is sensational. Confirm the myth at KINGS in Raleigh on Thursday, Sept. 14 when they play with People Under the Bridge and Mingus Young, and Friday, Sept. 15 at THE RESERVOIR in Carrboro. –Grayson Currin