Wynonna Judd proved the music of the Judds is bigger than one singular person
The Judds Final Tour came home to Nashville on a brisk Friday night (Oct 28th) at Bridgestone Arena. To approach this concert event as simply Wynonna playing arenas on the power of the iconic hits she shares with her late mother Naomi would be a mistake. Though the elder Judd lost her battle with mental illness in April, her presence was still very much felt during the two hour nostalgia fest.
One did not have to wait long to get a glimpse of Judds past. Wynonna emerged from a B stage toward the back of the arena singing “Had a Dream (For the Heart)” after a clip from decades ago started the number. Seeing vintage T-shirts and signs with messages visibly overwhelmed Wynonna as she tried to maintain her composure. She adorably stumbled over some lyrics while trying to make out a sign.
Throughout the night, it was clear she was truly befuddled by the outpouring of love from the tens of thousands that had gathered in downtown Nashville. “Thank you for still coming, things being what they are,” she said. This, of course, being the first of several references to Naomi’s spring passing.
Along for the ride were Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, and Brandi Carlile. McBride opened the show with an 11 song set that showcased her pipes. Yearwood took lead on a few numbers, the most powerful being a battle for vocal dominance on “Born To Be Blue.” This song has not made it into the Judds’ setlist in several decades, and both women did it justice. Carlile was content to harmonize, even hanging with the background singers on their granite risers.
The stage itself was minimal. Light bars hung from the rafters and extended out over the floor section about a third into the crowd. A large screen showcased graphics, while two side screens stayed focused on the performers. Much like in the 80s and 90s, this allowed the focus to remain on the music and not production value.
Wynonna, the GOAT of female country singers, has grown into her voice’s ageless maturity. Eschewing the headset microphone of yore. Instead, she took a George Strait approach: Stood at her tasseled mic stand — often with her famous white guitar — she let her voice soar throughout the arena. A growling rendition of “Rock Bottom” and a determined, staccato “I Know Where I’m Going” added new depth to the songs.
Stripped down versions of “Guardian Angel” and “Flies on the Butter” were preceded by a tribute to Naomi’s impact on the Judds’ career. The acoustic set allowed for Wynonna to share a tender moment with her husband, Cactus Moser, who is also the band’s drummer.
Sister Ashley Judd joined Wynonna to reminisce about their mother and talk about the good memories with their mother that the pair are recalling throughout their grief journey. Ashley said she had written a letter to their mother just that very morning. She also gave a PSA about mental health, reminding the audience that help for those struggling is just three numbers away: 988.
The Judds tour is as much a memorial and celebration of Naomi’s life as it is a celebration of the music. All of the tributes to the late matriarch were well done, and never ham-fisted. It had to be addressed. Wynonna visibly teared up several times throughout the night. Looking to the sky, she said, “You should be here.” The crowd certainly agreed. But at the same time, they lifted Wynonna up in her grief by singing along with every song.
The set was a mix of Judds classics and Wynonna’s hits. No doubt that would have been the case even if Naomi had been along for the ride. “No One Else on Earth” saw Brandi Carlile return to harmonize. “She is His Only Need” was incredibly soft and poignant. And “I Wanna Know What Love Is” was offered by Wynonna a prayer. “I am begging God for some peace,” she said.
“Love Can Build a Bridge” closed out the main set. Without spoiling anything, the way this number unfolds on screen is worth the price of admission if you are able to catch the 2023 leg of the tour. Carlile, Yearwood, McBride, and Ashley Judd returned to play the part of what Wy called “My choir.”
The encore comprised of the Judds’ three most recognizable hits: “Mama He’s Crazy,” “Grandpa (Tell me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” and “Why Not Me?”
It is clear that this is not the Wynonna Judd show. It was evident all night that she understands the music of the Judds is bigger than herself. Bigger than her and Naomi put together. Bigger than the star-studded lineup of guest stars. The music is owned by the fans, having stood the test of time. And Wynonna knows she is but a vessel through which the fans to see themselves.
She promised her mother — wearing a guitar emblazoned with “Mom” on the neck — that night in Nashville, “I will carry on the Judd legacy.”