The Academy of Country Music has confirmed the good taste of thousands of Kern County listeners by anointing KUZZ Radio Station of the Year. Again.

The Academy of Country Music, whose annual awards show will be televised April 7, revealed some early winners on Wednesday.

"We weren't even sure when the announcement was coming down," said Buck Owens' Productions CEO and general manager Mel Owens. "It really took us by surprise. And I have to tell you, whether it's the ACMs or the CMAs, it never gets old."

Owens Productions garnered a total of three nominations this year, including Nightclub of the Year and the Don Romeo Talent Buyer of the Year for Crystal Palace staffer Jerry Hufford. The winners in those categories have not been announced. KUZZ last won the ACM medium market award in 1999 and 2009.

"Everybody was in the office cheering when they found out. It's pretty darn exciting."

Owens will attend the live ceremony, along with Hufford and other members of Owens' production staff.

"I hope Jerry gets it. Wouldn't it be great if we won all three?"

The Crystal Palace has been packing them in lately on the strength of a variety of acts, from classic performers to indie country bands to radio-friendly up-and-comers. Among those slated to appear in the coming months are the Mavericks on March 25, Tracy Lawrence on April 10 and Junior Brown on May 8.

"There's a lot of great younger acts coming up, and I think the Palace is just a great venue for them to get some exposure and get some experience of being up on stage," Owens said. "We're seeing a lot of that come out of Nashville right now. They're calling up saying, 'We wanna play the Crystal Palace.' They loved Buck, and his music really influenced them."

Owens added that the venue may plan a hometown celebration the weekend of the ACM Awards.

"I'm sure the Palace will be celebrating a lot that weekend. The bands performing that weekend will know about it, a lot of whoopin' and hollerin' for sure."

The Academy of Country Music Awards will be held April 7 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and broadcast that evening at 8 p.m. on Bakersfield CBS affiliate KBAK-TV, Channel 29.

Stella & The Steel Cats

Move over fellas, Stella's about to shake up this town.

A newly formed jazzy torch song and swing outfit called Stella & the Steel Cats hope to make your acquaintance when they spice things up at Que Pasa Mexican cantina at The Marketplace on Saturday. Think Fabulous Baker Boys meets Peggy Lee meets Jessica Rabbit

Fronted by Bakersfield "Stella," aka LaShay Munoz (no relation to this writer), the act has become a vibrant addition to the local scene since debuting last year. Combining vintage sounds from the pop catalogs of iconic vocalists Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Julie London, Eartha Kitt, with a helping of Elvis, Frank Sinatra and more, that band gives audiences more than just the average martini-time playlist.

"I've always felt I was born in another era," said Munoz, 37. "I've always been into classic Hollywood glamour. My grandma really loved Patsy Cline and played her music all the time. Even in high school, I would always sing songs like 'Makin' Whoopee.' I still do that song."

While Munoz's only previous musical experience was high school choir, she says nerves didn't deter her ambitions.

"Some of my friends would tell me, 'How are you gonna do this? You don't even have a band.' Nobody thought I could do it," she recalled.

With lyric and music sheets in hand, Munoz paid a visit to the weekly Bakersfield Jazz Workshop with every intention of making connections. Within a few hours, she made a number of introductions with some young jazz musicians, including 19-year-old Bakersfield pianist Tony Rinaldi.

"LaShay's got a good solid alto voice, and she's a great person to work and hang out with," said Rinaldi, who is majoring in music, with a concentration in composition, at CSUB. "I think it's been received very well, considering how new we are."

Through Rinaldi's musical connections, the group's lineup has grown from a duo to an interchangeable sextet with some of Bakersfield's brightest young jazz musicians: Charlie Paulsen, drums; Adam Zanoff, electric bass and upright bass; Devery Sturges, guitar; and James Russell, saxophone.

"A friend of mine gave me the nickname," said Munoz. "I felt like I needed a name for this persona I was creating. She said I looked like 'Stella.' It just felt right. Stella & The Steel Cats just rolls off the tongue."

For Rinaldi and other musicians, many of whom weren't even close to being born when most of the band's repertoire was written, capturing the right historic feel was a priority.

"There's definitely a reason why these songs are still being played," he said. "Just solid, catchy songwriting. It's been a journey to make sure I get that style down authentically."

The band's set list, with shared vocals from Munoz and Rinaldi, includes the covers "Why Don't You Do Right?," "Crazy," "Fever," "What Ever Lola (Stella) Wants," "Johnny Got a Boom Boom," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "Hit the Road Jack" and "Great Balls of Fire," all presented in an elegant va-va-voom style.

"A lot of those songs have a bad girl feel to them," said Munoz. "They fit my Stella character."

The group hopes to put the finishing touches on a promotional DVD and score more gigs locally and beyond. They'd like to begin adding some original tunes into their live show as well. Saturday's show marks the group's eighth live appearance.

"We'd like to do a video for our original song 'Lucky Lou,' about Stella's trip to the horse races. If all goes well, we'll be ready by April," said Munoz. "Tony and the guys are an excellent team to work with.

Saturday's showtime is 8:30 p.m.; admission is free. All ages admitted. Que Pasa at The Marketplace is located at 9000 Ming Ave. For more information, visit, or call 664-1400.