Wynonna Celebrates The Judds‘ Enduring Legacy With Soul-Lifting ‘Girls Night Out’ With Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride & Brandi Carlile
In the 1980s, mother-daughter duo The Judds, with their homespun songs and pure, family harmonies, were among several acts that helped return country music to a more rootsy sound. Between 1983 and 2000, mother Naomi Judd and daughter Wynonna notched 25 Hot Country Songs appearances, which encompassed 14 No. 1s and 20 top 10s. In addition to their electric personalities, they also had a secret weapon — the junior Judd, then still a teen, whose distinctive, husky voice has always been an endlessly versatile instrument, capable of rendering the delicate nuances demanded by a tender love song, but equally capable of the hand-raising, soul-shouting intensity of a musical preacher.
The Judds: The Final Tour had been announced prior to Naomi Judd’s death on April 30 at age 76, one day before to The Judds’ induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Instead of nixing the tour, Wynonna, 58, chose to carry on, welcoming a slate of female artists who help pay tribute to her mother, as well as The Judds’ legacy as one of the biggest country music duos of the 1980s and ’90s.
“I was not going to go on this tour,” Wynonna acknowledged to the crowd gathered at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Friday (Oct. 28). “I’m sure glad I did.”
In true Wynonna Judd fashion, the concert was an enthralling mix of organic, front-porch acoustic country, swaggering rock and emotional church service, led by Judd’s signature Elvis-esque, bluesy growl.
From the moment Wynonna took the stage — surprising the audience by launching the show not from center stage, but instead from a small B-stage at the back of the arena — it was clear this was no typical concert. She began with the Judds’ 1983 debut single, “Had a Dream (For the Heart),” followed by “Give a Little Love.” Taking in the collective love in the room, Judd was escorted by security through the crowd back to the main stage, a wide grin on her face. Clad in black attire and with her striking red hair, Wy gave off a throwback rock star vibe as she waved at fans and stopped to take a selfie with a fan or two.
“That was crazy,” she said, as the crowd cheered.
Judd worked her way through not only many of the catalog of songs that brought The Judds five Grammy wins, as well as induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but many of her own solo hits from the ’90s. The set list included Judds hits including 1985’s “Girls Night Out” (as Wynonna was joined by Yearwood and McBride) and “Love Is Alive,” 1986’s “Cry Myself to Sleep” and 1987’s “I Know Where I’m Going.” Wy also offered renditions of her solo hits, including her first solo No. 1 from 1992, “She Is His Only Need,” as well as the subsequent chart-toppers “I Saw the Light” and “No One Else on Earth.”
The evening ranged from folksy Judds songs including “Flies on the Butter (You Can’t Go Home Again),” to a version of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” with Wy telling the crowd, “It was a classic rock song, but tonight, it’s a prayer.”
Yearwood joined on “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain,” while Carlile joined on “Let Me Tell You About Love.”
Yearwood was so inspired by Wy’s vocal performance, that she felt compelled to speak about the influence The Judds’ music — and specifically Wynonna — had on her as a child growing up in Georgia.
“We all love you so much,” Yearwood said. “I think it’s important that you understand that when I was an 18-year-old girl, you were also an 18-year-old girl, and I heard that voice and I was in Georgia and I was wanting to be a singer and I wasn’t sure how to get to Nashville. I heard you sing, and I was like, ‘I gotta get to that town.’ I just want to thank you on behalf of all of us for your inspiration, that gift, that voice… I’m just telling you from everybody that we love you.”
“I don’t get this kind of treatment at home,” Judd quipped, “so I had to come here tonight.”
The camaraderie among the women onstage was evident throughout the evening, as both Yearwood and Carlile knelt onstage at one point, listening intently as Wynonna sang. Throughout the evening, Carlile served as cheerleader, fan, background vocalist, duet partner and emotional support for Wynonna, leaning in to wipe away a tear from Wy’s face at one moment. Given Carlile’s stellar production and co-writing work on Tanya Tucker’s Grammy-winning While I’m Livin’ album, one can’t help but wonder what a Carlile-produced Wynonna album would sound like.
Judd noted that many of the fans “have been here since 1984… we grew up together.” Many in the crowd sported vintage Judds shirts, a testament to the strong, enduring relationship The Judds built with their fanbase.
It wasn’t only women supporting Judd throughout the evening. As Wynonna performed The Judds’ “Young Love (Strong Love)” her husband and bandmate Cactus Moser was by her side. Wynonna told the crowd the song was inspired by a couple that met in the town square in Franklin, Tenn.
“They had face-to-face back when we didn’t have FaceTime,” Wynonna quipped. Their faces close at the same mic as Moser sang harmony, Moser stole a brief kiss, to the delight of the crowd.
Throughout the evening, video segments chronicled the rise of The Judds, Wynonna’s solo turn and ultimately the family bond between Naomi, Wynonna and Ashley. The ongoing grief of losing her mother was etched into Wy’s face at various moments throughout the show, as she bravely pushed through the concert, taking in the love of the crowd.
“You should be here, and so I will carry on the Judd legacy,” Wynonna said at one point, looking upward. Later, she was joined onstage by sister Ashley.
“It’s always nice to be onstage with a GOAT,” Ashley quipped. “The greatest of all time. I’ve got my ticket right where mom kept everything,” she said, gesturing to her bust. “She’d sometimes say she had half a tuna salad sandwich in there,” she quipped. Earlier in the evening, Wy had pulled a similar move, pulling a compact out onstage to fix her makeup after “Young Love (Strong Love).”
“I miss her, especially tonight,” Wynonna said of their mother, as Ashley noted she wrote a letter to Naomi that morning. “Just telling her I love her and making some memories.”
“That’s what we have left now are memories,” Wynonna said. “The good ones are really starting to come and I’m so grateful for that… today I’m in a good mood. How can you be in a bad mood with friends like this?” she said, gesturing to the crowd.
“Thank you for carrying on mom’s legacy and thank you for your sweetness and condolences and uplift,” Ashley told the crowd, before adding, “If anyone is struggling, first of all please know that a parent’s mental illness is never the child’s fault. Whatever their disease, we didn’t cause it, we can’t control it and we can’t cure it,” she said as the crowd cheered in agreement.
One would expect the evening’s emotional climax would come with the all-star singalong of The Judds’ Grammy-winning signature hit, “Love Can Build a Bridge,” which found Ashley Judd, McBride, Yearwood and Carlile return to the stage to form a backup chorus, with Carlile and Yearwood wrapping their arms around Ashley, while Wy sang in sync with video footage of Naomi, creating a duet between mother and daughter once again.
But the emotional zenith came with Wynonna’s encore, shortly after she returned to the stage with an acoustic guitar (with flowers and the word “Mom” emblazoned on the fretboard). The Nashville crowd vocally wrapped its arms around Wy and completely took over singing The Judds’ 1984 hit “Mama, He’s Crazy,” bringing Wy to tears. At times, she directed the audience in perfecting the chorus. At the song’s conclusion, Wy gave a literal mic drop, letting her microphone clatter to the stage. The concert closed with “Grandpa, Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days,” and “Why Not Me,” as the crowd once again lifted its collective voice in song.
In its entirety, the concert was truly a “Girls Night Out,” with McBride opening the show with her thousand-watt voice, sailing through songs including “I Love You,” “Love’s the Only House,” “Anyway” (which McBride noted was the first song she had a had in writing that made it onto one of her albums), and her signature hits including “A Broken Wing” and “Independence Day.”
Coming just weeks after another all-female lineup, Reba McEntire with Terri Clark, thrilled a full house in the same Nashville arena, these shows are a throwback and testament to kind of soul-healing, thrilling concerts, filled with songs of substance, that happen when women’s songs, stories and perspectives are at the forefront of country music.