Muzik Mafia Make Vegas an Offer It Couldn’t Refuse

Chesney and Kid Rock Help Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson Unwind Following ACM Awards

LAS VEGAS — By the time Kenny Chesney, Kid Rock and Gretchen Wilson had helped James Otto complete an extremely lengthy version of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See,” Big Kenny of Big & Rich was justified in proclaiming, “I would call this a liberated lounge.”

It happened in the early hours of Thursday morning (May 27) at the House of Blues, where Big Kenny and partner John Rich were orchestrating the latest performance by the Muzik Mafia. Big & Rich term the creative collective “music without prejudice.” And it surely is that, considering that it’s a place where saxophones and conga drums can peacefully coexist with fiddles and steel guitars. Or maybe it wouldn’t be far-fetched to call it “free form, bohemian performance art a go-go.” Whatever it is, it seems poised to give country music a much-needed shot of energy.

The midnight show was the place to be in Las Vegas following the Academy of Country Music Awards show. The Muzik Mafia, which began at the tiny Pub of Love nightclub in Nashville, has suddenly become the biggest buzz in country music. Wilson, in particular, has scored a No. 1 country single with “Redneck Woman” and a No. 1 country album with her debut project, Here for the Party. Unless something drastic happens during the next seven months, she will be country music’s biggest debut story of 2004. Meanwhile, Big & Rich are making serious inroads, too, and everything should escalate following their awards show performance of their new single, “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).”

Backstage at the ACM Awards, Rich said the awards show appearance was a major moment for the Muzik Mafia.

“It felt rather galactic, actually,” he said. “We got to stand there and watch Gretchen Wilson, a girl Kenny and I saw in March of 1999 singing as a bartender getting up with the house band at a little bar in Nashville. She got up and just blew the speakers out at this bar. That was five years ago. To watch her finally get up there and get her spot [on the awards show] was just awesome.” Big Kenny added, “And to have her introduce us, it couldn’t have been no better.”

Also backstage at the awards show, Kid Rock talked about his appreciation of the Muzik Mafia after meeting Big & Rich in Nashville at Rich’s birthday party earlier this year.

“Before I even heard the music, we talked and became friends,” he said. “I was like, ’I just like these guys as people.’ Then the music started going out with Gretchen and theirselves. It’s just so refreshing to see people who play music and write music and have a passion about it. And to want to form a clique — a Mafia, if you will — of other people who love music and love to play music. And that’s the sole purpose of it. Not for anything else.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.