DOCTOR NIGHTLIFE remembers when Carlene Carter was throwing a new wave/pub rock country party and nobody came. Fortunately, times and tastes have changed, but Carter is better than ever (Sunday at the Birchmere; $13.50, 432-0200). Elsewhere: FRIDAY

DULCET TONES -- If you think you've heard everything you need to hear from a dulcimer, think again: The three-day Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest (the third annual, in fact) fills the historic Entler Hotel and Men's Club in Shepherdstown, W. Va., with the whole history of the instrument -- classes on freestyle, medieval, clasical, Renaissance, Irish & Scottish, French, buskers, wedding and "flash & pizzazz" styles. The Friday night concert features Ironweed ($4, $2.50 children); Saturday night's showcase features Passages, Robin Petrie & Danny Carnahan (also appearing Monday at the Silver Spring Unitarian Church; 270-9090) and master dulcimer maker Nicholas Blanton, with local faves Seth Austin and Ralph Gordon ($7 and $3). Most of the performers are also involved in the seminars; for more information call 304/263-2531.

CLASSICAL SASS -- Pianist Charles Foreman sweeps through a tour de flash from "Rags to Rachmaninoff," with stopovers at Copland, Barber, Joplin and Shchedrin, at the Natural History Museum's Baird Auditorium ($15; 357-3030). SATURDAY

THE RED SHOES, 2 -- It's the "sixth almost annual almost all-night dance" at Glen Echo, starting at 8:30 with the Capital Quicksteps; then a potluck midnight dinner (for those who bring a pot, of course), followed by round two with Evening Star ($11; 270-1678).

BLUES WITHOUT DUES -- The second annual D.C. Blues Society free bluesfest -- this one dedicated to the memory of Flora Molton -- kicks off at noon at the Langdon Park Recreation Center at 20th and Franklin streets NE. Among the featured artists are John Jackson, Archie Edwards, Warner Williams, Nat Reese, the Uptown Rhythm Kings, the Larry Wise Band, Jimmy Smoot & the Fabulous Omen Band and the Doctor's particular favorites Cephas & Wiggins (369-6781).

HIGHBEAMS' DIMMING BULBS -- Classic rockers the Highbeams play a special free hail-and-farewell set at Fins (486-3467) to mark the last appearances of members Paul Bogas and Dave Werner, and to jam with the new members and friends. Bogas plans to concentrate on his playwriting (his work is already being performed locally) and Werner is turning to comedy. Seriously.

LET 'EM EAT CAKE -- The Odd Cargo improv troupe celebrates (a) its first anniversary of Saturday midnight madness shows at the Biograph in Georgetown; (b) the arrival of three new members, actor Andy Pang, lawyer Scott Bailey and former troupe groupie Rick Box; and (c) a second regular gig, Wednesday nights at the Laughing Lizard Lounge in Alexandria. You'll still have to pay $5 to get in (298-1190) but at least the cake is free. SUNDAY

SURPRISE EXTRA FIX -- Okay, so you had to see Van Morrison last Wednesday. Or you have a phobia about the American Legion Bridge, and can't bear to drive to Wolf Trap. Whatever. You have one more shot at the Cowboy Junkies, this time at the 9:30 club ($20; 393-0930). MONDAY

TH(E) STREET BAND -- Dave Edmunds always puts together the greatest rock 'n' roll revues in the business, and this time is no exception: The Welsh rocker's band includes E Street alums Danny Federici and Max Weinberg, and cowboy jazz master Danny Gatton is the special guest (at GWU's Lisner Auditorium; $18.50, 800/543-3041). TUESDAY

SMOOTH AND SALSA -- Baltimore jazz guitarist Carl Filipiak makes his rare Washington appearances more regular with a Tuesday night stint at Tila's in Chevy Chase (652-8452); this week's inaugural appearance is also a record release party for his second album, "Blue Entrance." From now on Filipiak will play two sets each Tuesday at 7 and 9:30. Tila's also continues its Thursday evening reggae sets with local dance faves Black Sheep.

SONGWRITERS' SHOWCASE -- New England new-folk cult favorite Bill Morrissey has a raspy, cat-tongue voice, a talent for the killer detail ("waiting to get stung by Lester Young over that tiny radio") and an album ("Standing Eight") that placed him on a lot of top 10 lists last year. Chris Smither's fans and song subscribers include Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John and the late great Lowell George. Smither and Morrissey showcase at the Birchmere ($10; 549-5919) along with longtime local journeyman Jimmy Landry.

EXTRA FIX 2 -- Monday night's show is completely sold out, but the 9:30 club has added a second Billy Bragg show, so move fast to catch the last of the Angry Young Men, Artistic Category ($17; 800/543-3041). WEDNESDAY

GARDEN STATE OF MIND -- Upon mature musical reflection, we take back all the nasty things we ever thought about New Jersey. Aside from the obvious Springsteen, that skinny little state is responsible for a remarkable group of first-class new rockers: Smithereens, Bongos, Winter Hours, the lush Feelies and the quirky and often brilliant Ben Vaughn, author of "I'm Sorry (And So Is Brenda Lee)". And then there's the Fusco Brothers . . . The Feelies and Vaughn double up for two nights, Wednesday and Thursday, at the quirky and often brilliant 9:30 ($12; 393-0930). THURSDAY

NEO HILL BILLIES -- Billy Hill is not a folksinger. He's not a dropout from ZZ Top. In fact, he's not anything -- he's a they, a rambunctious new-rowdy band made up mostly of members of the Nashville kickaround band Wolves in Cheap Clothing and the old Dukes of Earle (Steve's powerhouse backup band). They're working out the mix at Zed in Alexandria (768-5558).