Stories from Backstage – The Judds: Wynonna and Naomi

by Bruce A. Smith

The Château Saint Michel Winery, Woodinville, WA; and Nashville

When Wynonna and Naomi opened their 2000 reunion tour in Nashville, my life in Tennessee became cross-pollinated with Judd stories.

 First, I breathed the fine, luxurious mist of enchantment spun by the Queen of Nashville, Miss Wynonna.  Her reunion concert with her mother convinced me she had earned the right to rule Music City.

 The second bit of pollen passing my nares occurred just days before the show while I was renovating the K-Mart in Johnnie Cash’s home town of Hendersonville, Tennessee.  Since The Judds reunion tour was being underwritten by K-Mart and all of Nashville loves these ladies, everybody in the store was talking about Naomi’s long illness and her return to the stage.  My nose twitched furiously when a juicy tidbit of gossip blew hard from men’s ware all the way to the hardware department, where I was replacing floor tile in my day-job as a rent-a-carpenter.

 As I glopped goop on linoleum, a cashier raced over from hardware and told me that her friend, the cashier in men’s, swore that her cousin in Brentwood, the fancy suburb south of Nashville and home to many stars, had actually seen Wynonna shopping in TARGET!!! Yikes!  I hurried over to men’s ware faster than I cash a paycheck.

 The source of this News Blast emphatically told me that, not only did her cousin spot Wy in Target, (I forget which mall), she went up to Her Highness and had actually talked with her.  Apparently, this cousin had found the courage to approach Wy out of unbridled excitement over the Queen singing with her mom again.

 I believe this story because Wynonna is just that kind of gal.  I know, because I’ve talked to her myself – the only star I’ve ever spoken to.  Fortunately, my K-Mart renovation had ended just in time for me to stagehand the opening show of The Judds Reunion Tour, at Nashville’s Am South Amphitheater.

 Together, Wynonna and Naomi made magic.  I’ve since worked Wynonna’s solo show at the Château Saint Michel Winery in Woodinville, and as good as she is on her own, Wy never quite reached the transcendence she attained with her mother.  Something about their singing together brings out something sweeter; maybe it’s a more soulful intimacy or a richer authenticity.  Regardless, their duets touched me deeply.

 The most obvious manifestation of that deeper bond with each other was revealed in the second half of the Nashville show.

 During the intermission, The Judds instructed the stagehand crew to install several mics in the middle of the Shed’s audience, 17,000 strong.  When the house lights were brought up, Wynonna walked down one runway to the mics, and Naomi the other.  Standing but a few inches away from their fans, Wynonna and Naomi sang an acoustic set of their greatest hits, bringing tears to my eyes and probably everyone else’s.

 After a half-dozen tunes, Wynonna spoke about her recent engagement and called for her fiancé to come out and say, “Hello.”  He was a chubby guy about thirty-five, and definitely not a show-boat-kind-of-dude.  Wynonna really had to cajole him out from the wings, but he came forward.

 The crowd loved it.  They applauded enthusiastically, but didn’t go over the top.  It was a respectful, family-like welcoming – an acknowledgment of being allowed into a private part of Wynonna’s life.

 The next week I was back at the Am South Amphitheater working the Phish concert, and during the show I was sitting backstage with a couple of other stagehands.  Wynonna, who often visits other performers during their shows in Nashville, walked past us.

 “Great job last week, Wy,” I called out.

 She stopped and turned to me.  With a big smile on her face she slapped my leg and said, “Honey, just getting through that evening was the best part of it.  But thanks.  Glad you enjoyed it.”

 That’s my Wy- and that’s why she owns Nashville. 

 By the way, she did the same kind of thing at the Winery.  She brought a kid up from the audience and sang a duet with her.  Others wanted to get on stage and Wy brought up a few more, including a tipsy fan that was gracefully returned to his seat.  But, the thing I remember most from Wy’s Woodinville show was a note she had posted in her quick-change room backstage.  Atop her mirror she scrawled: “I love my attitude.”

 I love it, too, Wy.

©  2006, 2012  Bruce A. Smith

The Judds, Naomi,(left), and Wynonna, (right).

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