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GET OUT: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

- - Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pick of the Pack

Musical festival: Steve Martin at DelFest

Actor Steve Martin is the best thing to happen to bluegrass music since Dolly Parton and Nickel Creek teamed up in 2001 to cover Collective Soul's "Shine." The cover was so-so, but it made Nickel Creek into FM radio stars and gave bluegrass a new audience. And that's just what Mr. Martin has done: brought new fans to the party of Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Likewise, Mr. Martin, who hasn't had a starring role since 2009's "Pink Panther" sequel, has found new life as a world-class banjo picker. Yes, that's right: The comedic mind behind "The Jerk" and Master Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko is also a pretty good clawhammer picker. How good? Well, his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, was named performer of the year at 2011's International Bluegrass Music Association Awards. They'll be tearing it up at DelFest this weekend.

Through Sunday at the Cumberland Fairgrounds, 11490 Moss Ave., Cumberland, Md.

Phone: 510/547-1992

Web: delfest.com

Special event: 'A Prairie Home Companion'

The segment of the American populace who knows what Garrison Keillor is talking about when he invokes an age of tomato canning, interdenominational rivalries and families of a dozen generations who never venture more than a few blocks from whence they were born is dwindling, but that's no reason not to take your entire brood to see Mr. Keillor, et al., tape "A Prairie Home Companion" at Wolf Trap. For adults age 50 and older, Mr. Keillor's monologues about Lake Wobegon, where all the Lutherans eat lutefisk and where minor league baseball is king, will remind them of just how far they've come from their ancestral homelands. For young people, the monologues will serve as slightly (but only slightly) fictionalized history lessons about life before Facebook.

Friday and Saturday at Wolf Trap, 1645 Trap Road, Vienna, Va.

Phone: 703/255-1900

Web: www.wolftrap.org

Concert: Rocky Votolato

The history of rock is full of singers who have evolved into softer genres. David Johansen of the New York Dolls took a turn as the tuxedoed crooner Buster Poindexter, and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell went full pop with an album produced by Timbaland. Rocky Votolato has outdone both men with a punk-turned-acoustic career actually worth following. Mr. Votolato's reinvention as wispy, raspy singer-songwriter is best measured by songs such as "She Was Only In It for the Rain" and "White Daisy Passing," two brooding, acoustic-laden nostalgia trips that represent the best of the Pacific Northwest's conversion to alt-something-or-other. The skinny-jeans set loves this stuff, but the pleats crowd can - and should - give it a go as well.

Friday at the Red Palace, 1212 H St. NE

Phone: 202/399-3201

Web: redpalacedc.com

Author talk: Brian Latell on Fidel Castro

More than five decades after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, many of the CIA's files on the mission to depose Fidel Castro are still top secret. But while Americans can't know what the CIA has on Mr. Castro, they can know what Mr. Castro has on the rest of the world, thanks to Brian Latell's book, "Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine." Mr. Latell interviewed numerous defectors from Cuba's intelligence agencies to create a portrait of one of the Western Hemisphere's most ruthless and cunning spymasters. The infamous communist leader may not be capable of much in his old age and declining health, but once upon a time, he was responsible for ordering high-level assassinations, and even knew a thing or two about Lee Harvey Oswald.

Mr. Latell reads Thursday at the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE

Phone: 202/546-4400

Web: www.heritage.org

Reading series: NYU veterans writing workshop

The MFA - or master's of fine arts degree - is in a precarious position. Once upon a time, two years of residency at an acclaimed program, spent in the company of other scribblers, was the surest way to become a professional writer. Now, with MFA programs graduating thousands upon thousands of mediocre writers every year, the MFA is the new MBA: Sometimes, it's worth only as much as the paper it's printed on, and seldom as much as the degree itself cost. If you want to get a sense of what an MFA once was worth, the Kennedy Center is hosting several veterans from New York University's vaunted writing program: Eric Fair, Matt Gallagher, Matthew Mellina, Perry O'Brien and - perhaps the best of the bunch - Iraq War veteran Roy Scranton.

Tuesday at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW

Phone: 202/467-4600

Web: www.kennedy-center.org