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The Southern Plunge Into Trailer Trash Leisure and Entertainment, known to us local yokels as S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest, enters its fourth rip-snortin' year as the area's best showcase for the alternative country set. Past fests, along with a Hee Haw dose of humor and savory pig meat, have showcased such homegrown talent as Six String Drag, Whiskeytown, $2 Pistols and The Backsliders. With the fest's reputation firmly established, national acts like The Bottlerockets, The Derailers and Cigar Store Indians have also graced the Brewery's stage. This year's event breaks down as follows: Thursday's highlights include Greg Hawks & the Tremblers (their album comes out Feb. 14) as well as 34 Satellite, featuring Raleigh's own Marc Smith (Patty Hurst Shifter). Doors at 8 p.m.; cheap PBR flows all night (six bits!). On Friday and Saturday nights, the doors open at 6 p.m. with a pig-pickin' at 6:30, so you can get fortified with 'cue before the foot-stompin' and honky-tonkin' commences. Friday features local faves Tift Merritt and Trailer Bride as well as the heartland harmonies of Austin, Texas' Bluegrass Drive-By. On Saturday, Raleigh supergroup the Anti-Carpetbagger's League rules the roost, along with Big Dixie, Beaver Nelson and others. Call the Brewery at 834-7018 for ticket information. --Angie Carlson

DiamondDiamondDiamondShortly before his untimely 1981 death, Harry Chapin composed the score for a bluegrass musical, Cotton Patch Gospel, which became both a film and a staple of touring repertory companies during the 1980s. Based on the life and work of Southern social activist Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Gospel offers plenty of humor, but certainly not Broadway pabulum, placing Jesus in 20th-century Georgia. As a warm-up for an extended Charlotte performance, Cotton Patch veteran Franklin Golden and Chapel Hill's bluegrass ensemble, The Shady Grove Band, will present Cotton Patch Gospel at 8 p.m. Saturday, at University Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. The suggested donation of $10 will benefit Habitat for Humanity, an organization inspired by Jordan's efforts. Info: 942-2157. --Art Menius

DiamondDiamondDiamondAfter taking almost a year off to regroup, recharge and polish some new ideas, the $2 Pistols (pictured) have re-emerged with a grittier sound and a new list of shrewd original material. Don't worry: John Howie hasn't stopped crooning about heartaches and hangovers. While his one foot is still firmly planted in Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, he's dipping the other into the Beatles and Richard Thompson, a pool of pop influence embodied in Scott McCall's airtight guitar arrangements.

Over the past year, between engagements with the Kenny Roby Combo, McCall has helped Howie put the Pistols back together. Bassist Neal Spaulding came over from Tift Merritt's band in the fall of 1999, and Mark Weaver joined on drums in time for the Honky-Tonk-A-Rama show last February. That was the last time the Pistols played locally. All the new stuff is ready to roll for their Saturday night show at Go! Studios, after being road-tested during out-of-town gigs with openers The Star Room Boys, a burgeoning roots-country band from Athens, Ga. --John Martin

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