Beyond The Tears, There’s Triumph: The Judds Final Concert

Brandi Carlile and Wynonna perform onstage during The Judds Love Is Alive The Final Concert Featuring Wynonna at Murphy Center at Middle Tennessee State University on November 03, 2022 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

The Judds Final Concert
Bridgestone Arena
Oct. 28, 2022
With Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride + Brandi Carlile

From the moment Wynonna appeared at the back of the Bridgestone Arena’s floor, rising on a lift as she sang “Had A Dream (For The Heart),” she demonstrated her tremendous growth as an artist and a vocalist since the world discovered The Judds, who burst onto the national stage in 1984. Bluesy, at times guttural, even winsome, she brought a palette of emotions and colors to the Elvis classic – and wowed the audience who’d come to remember The Judds in their prime.

Back when Wynonna and her late mother Naomi served a mountain-inflected brand of hard country and classic values, their sound was startling in the post-Urban Cowboy middle of the road Nashville. Like Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis, they broke through by bringing their roots forward. But even then, it was clear teenage Wynonna had broader taste and a worldview that grasped Bonnie Raitt as well as Hazel Dickens.

Still coming up in a world of “high entertainment values,” the pair headlined arenas, mom sashaying, daughter growling her way through songs. That “HEV” was on full display as Wynonna pivoted to the funky “Give A Little Love,” making her way down to the floor, up the aisle and onto the stage at a sold-out Bridgestone Arena. Being among the people felt right, not a play to be “one of them,” but recognition that over almost four decades the Judds had been part of America’s extended family.

For Nashville, this was in many ways a “homecoming show.” And while there were cathartic moments, the flame-tressed vocalist worked hard to keep the show from dissolving into a public mourning of her mother, who died April 30, the day before their Country Music Hall of Fame induction. Instead, the 24-song set offered a masterclass in evolving without losing your roots.

Myriad emotional moments, grief and gratitude pouring from Judd – and her sister Ashley, who appeared from the wings, to lovingly help reprise some of Naomi’s favorite correctives – defined the night. But what stood out was how much the Judds meant every song they sang.

Joined by Trisha Yearwood and tour opener Martina McBride on a frisky “Girls Night Out,” the sisterhood of girl singers was on full display. Crème de la crème of the next Female Vocalists of the Year to come, both women represented the countless young fans who took those songs to heart.

Yearwood, who’d appear throughout the night, spoke before the smoky “Love Is Alive” about Wynonna’s presence on the radio triggering a sense that she, too, could be a country singer, one who also had vast influences and an unlikely background. That endorsement speaks directly to the Judds’ impact on generations of women.

Brandi Carlile seconded that emotion, emerging from the wings for a frisky rendition of the Carl Perkins-feeling bluegrassabilly “Let Me Tell You About Love.” Clearly living her best life, Carlile would also take the platform with the background singers to viscerally embrace the music.

That sort of joy is contagious. Strangers became friends, swaying from side-to-side and singing the refrain of songs they’d grown up on or raised children to. And it was a multi-generational audience, several wearing Judds T-shirts from their 1991 Farewell Tour.

Moving downstage, pulling the core band including husband/drummer Cactus Moser closer for an acoustic segment, Wynonna created a spell of intimacy following a video montage of her mother and their career that was almost a lullabye. “Guardian Angels” and her Willa Cather-esque solo “Flies On The Butter” captivated with the promise of what family should be even in lean times; but it was the tender tale of “Young Love,” aligning her face-to-face with Moser that the power of hearts entangled flared and inhabited the promise of what soulmates can provide.

For a young woman who grew up in public, Wynonna Judd became a role model for anyone – young, old, country, city, LGBTQ or any other variation of humanity – who dreamed unconventional dreams. Whether the sweltering “I Saw The Light,” the scalding soul-country stand by your mannish “No One Else On Earth” or the simplicity of her first solo hit, “She Is His Only Need,” all of the colors, genres and moods provided room to stretch out, holding and bending the notes, twisting and sliding, exploring what each could contain.

That kind of singing isn’t necessary for superstardom, but it’s a reminder why the 58-year old icon matters. Sharing the stage with vocalists who share her passion, her performance burned with real fire. That fire suggests the tragically reconfigured Judds Reunion Tour – celebrating the musical truth she and her mother created – may be a gateway to an even richer level of emotional and musical engagement for Naomi Judd’s oldest daughter.