Behind the Scenes: MuzikMafia

PEOPLE exclusive: Go backstage at the CMT Music Awards with country's Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and more. By Janice Morris and Beverly Keel

01 of 05

HIGH ROLLERS

HIGH ROLLERS
Kristin Barlowe

Big amp Rich – the guys behind country's rollicking MuzikMafia scene – make like Vegas at the CMT Awards in Nashville on April 11, all the way down to the shiny pants John Rich's grandmother made (right). "We look at ourselves as the country version of Parliament-Funkadelic," Rich tells PEOPLE of the duo's dancer-flanked performance of "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)."

02 of 05

TIGHT GRIP

TIGHT GRIP
Kristin Barlowe

Joey's sis Drea de Matteo and her country-rocker boyfriend Shooter Jennings – son of the late country star Waylon Jennings – hang backstage with the MuzikMafia folks. During the show, the couple presented the collaborative video of the year to Brad Paisley for "Whiskey Lullaby."

03 of 05

HEART-TO-HEART

HEART-TO-HEART
Kristin Barlowe

"Redneck Woman" singer Gretchen Wilson stops for some red-carpet bonding with Heart's Nancy (far left) and Ann Wilson, later joining the sisters onstage for their song "Crazy On You." Wilson took home breakthrough video and female video trophies. "I think I am blessed," she says. "I sound like a broken record, but it just doesn't get any better than this.

04 of 05

BIG LOVE

BIG LOVE
Kristin Barlowe

Big amp Rich’s Big Kenny holds on tight to his new bride Christiev Carothers, whom he married in January. And what was it like for the breakout star to share the CMTs with familiar faces this year? "For us to have our (MuzikMafia) friends out with us all the time, it doesn't get any better," he says.

05 of 05

MUZIK PARADE

MUZIK PARADE
Kristin Barlowe

"We encourage your freakish side to come out," John Rich (celebrating with entourage member Two Foot Fred a.k.a. 60 Cent) says of his MuzikMafia philosophy. "It's just everybody cutting loose and being themselves."

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