Wynonna ruminates “the mystery of faith” and growing into “River of Time,” as The Judds’ Final Tour sunsets< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – Wynonna Judd is lead singer of The Judds — the odds-defying mother-daughter duo hailing from Ashland, KY who are forever enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Wynonna carved out time to check in with WOUB from Nebraska, where The Judds’ Final Tour commences its last leg with Little Big Town. These country music heavyweights will bring their ensemble to Ohio on Saturday, February 11, when they play the Nutter Center in Dayton (3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy). A week later, Wynonna will perform The Judds’ Final Tour with Tanya Tucker, at the Charleston Coliseum (200 Civic Center Dr.) – only an hour’s drive from Ashland – in West Virginia. Martina McBride is The Judds’ Final Tour’s opening act.
Listen to WOUB’s interview with Wynonna by clicking “play” in the Soundcloud widget above. Find a transcript of WOUB’s interview with Wynonna Judd below. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Ian: How are you?
Wynonna: I’m grateful.
Ian: Good, good! Well, thank you, Wynonna, so much for speaking with WOUB. I actually spoke with you March 30th of last year… I actually interviewed you from the Makumbusho Village in Tanzania.
Wynonna: (laughs) I do remember that!
Ian: (laughs) Yes. So every time I recall East Africa, my brain defaults to Wynonna Judd singing the soundtrack. And it’s uncanny, you know, I spoke to you from Africa the first time — and now, the second interview coincides with you coming to perform in Dayton, of all places, where I was born!
Ian: Yeah. And you’re playing the venue, the Nutter Center where, I saw my very first concert at 4 years old. Quite the circle, there! (laughs) On that note… my first question is, you are playing arenas across America, 40 years after your first record [the “Wynonna & Naomi” EP] was released in 1983. Here I am, talking about life milestones, where your music is the soundtrack — and you’re playing every night, to thousands of people, who have their own anecdotes about your songs, and your story being woven into their lives. Can you talk about what it’s like to process that realization, when you’re on stage, facing thousands of people and singing songs that conjure such powerful memories?
Wynonna: Hmm. The first word that comes to mind is “surreal.” It is a very layered… (pause) I have layered emotions. One is, I just feel so incredibly blessed, because I’m part of people’s lives. Music is such an important part of my life, and I know what you’re saying about me being the backdrop soundtrack of everyday life – and I’m aware of that, *keenly* aware of that.
The second emotion is just, I’m in awe of the fact that I get to be a part of peoples’ lives in that intimate way. Because it’s me looking in from outside. You know, there’s part of me that stands on stage every night, and I take a physical step backwards, because I get so overwhelmed by the love and support that comes at me. We’re talking thousands and thousands of people, singing the words so loud[ly], that I actually stop singing and just hold my microphone up — because the soundtrack is being played back to me.
That is a moment for me, when I stand there… it feels very holy, because it’s Heaven on Earth. There is a moment when I, literally, feel Heaven on Earth. And I think about where Mom is, and I just think about everything, and it just is… (pauses) I’ve actually had to sit down on stage. Because I’m just so overcome with emotion — because of all the sounds coming at me, and all the emotion, and all the people standing there, with their hands in the air. Multi-generations!
I took a picture with a family of four generations recently, and I’m thinking to myself, “oh my gosh, this is just so overwhelming at times” that it knocks me over. I’m in awe; I’m just in awe. And I think about it constantly, because I know this too shall pass; I’m keenly aware of that, as well. So I take it all in, because I know it’s going very fast.
Life is going by very quickly; and there will be a moment, when I’m back home and I’m walking in the woods, and I remember the shows. And I think about the crowd, and it will overwhelm me again, because I’m part of something that’s really pretty special — as difficult as it was to move forward with this tour, it has become something that I will play in my mind for the rest of my life.
You know, there’s part of me that stands on stage every night, and I take a physical step backwards, because I get so overwhelmed by the love and support that comes at me. We’re talking thousands and thousands of people, singing the words so loud[ly] […] That is a moment for me, when I stand there… it feels very holy, because it’s Heaven on Earth. There is a moment when I, literally, feel Heaven on Earth. And I think about where Mom is, and I just think about everything, and it just is… (pauses) I’ve actually had to sit down on stage. – Wynonna Judd
Ian: Yeah. You know, and I have to be honest… when we played back your interview [in the fall of 2022], your powerful reflections, and taking it in with the progression of your story made me cry [and] made my producer cry. It’s the only interview that’s done that. Because you spoke about the feeling of “being suspended between here and Heaven,” as a throng of people sing your songs back to you.
In light of soldiering on with this tour, and all the feelings of, uh… gosh, it kind of leaves me speechless. You had revealed [that] you were becoming a grandmother, and that phrase of “being suspended between here and Heaven” – as we remember your legacy, and your Mom’s legacy is, you know… I’m shaking as I say it because, gosh, what a powerful metaphor! And I can only imagine how much that feeling, [and] that imagery that you had then has grown.
Wynonna: Oh my gosh! It’s so heavenly, that it helps suspend you over the crap that’s going on in your life. It helps you to soldier on through, because it’s so powerful. It literally feeds you. It feeds you spiritually, and emotionally, and mentally, to carry on. And that’s kind of where I’m at with all of this.
Ian: You’ve got different singing partners joining you, as you have soldiered on with this tour. And I’m really struck by the variety of friends that you’re performing with. In Dayton, you’re performing with a quartet of two men and two women — of course, [that’s] Little Big Town. In Charleston, you’re performing with the legendary Tanya Tucker, who was already a superstar while you were a little girl in Ashland, Kentucky. But then, last week, you performed with Kelsea Ballerini, who was born after The Judds bid farewell.
Of course, you’re used to singing Judd songs with your Mom, and that unmistakable harmony and the shared “her-story.” What’s it like to bring those songs with your Mom to life again, with such a variety of people of different backgrounds, and very different phases of their careers and lives?
Wynonna: Well, it’s about interpretation. So I’m really struck, each night, on how differently these people sing the Judd music. It’s like they’re bringing their own, you know, into my world. And it’s definitely a trip. I have to say, it’s one of the most unusual parts of what I do: to stand there and listen to Kelsea singing “Why Not Me.” She’s twenty-something, and she’s another generation of greatness, and she’s bringing her own inflections to the song. And I just stand there, and I’m in awe because it’s so unusual to watch someone else take your song and interpret it. It’s definitely a trip. I am overwhelmed by that, just itself.
The show is 26 songs; and I do the majority of them, of course. And then to stand there, and listen to Little Big Town do “Love is Alive” and bring the house down is just… [pause] it’s hard to describe. Because they have such a different way of singing it than I do; and yet, they’re honoring it, by doing it with every bit of oomph that they have. I’m standing there, watching them; I’m looking in from outside, and yet I’m part of the song, and it’s just otherworldly. It really is. It’s otherworldly. I feel suspended while I’m standing there singing. I feel like I levitate.
Ian: Yeah. And I don’t think Tanya has performed with you, yet, on the tour. That’ll be [during] the weekend that you’re performing in Charleston. But I’m thinking about you as a little girl, in Ashland, Kentucky… listening to songs on the radio with your mom and your sister [actress Ashley Judd] and [Tanya’s] songs being among them. And gosh, that’s gotta be so surreal to have [Tanya] on stage with you, singing your songs.
Wynonna: [laughs] And we’ve never performed together! So this will be a first.
Ian: Really? Oh my gosh! And Charleston is only an hour from Ashland; I know it’s very close. So that is something that I’m sure will be very surreal, as you said.
Wynonna: It will be.
Ian: Speaking of differing interpretations: you just got to perform with one of your idols, Joni Mitchell, at the Newport Folk Festival. She performed “Both Sides, Now” at Newport in 1969. And you performed “Both Sides, Now” at your 8th grade graduation as, the way that you described it to Hunter – who’s such a great interviewer, by the way, Hunter Kelley – “little Christina Claire,” from Ashland, Kentucky.
Wynonna: I know, I know.
Ian: Then decades later, Joni performs it with you — and we’re all tearing up, because we’re watching the two of you sing that song as survivors. You had, of course, just gone through a traumatic loss in the global eye; and Joni, against all medical odds of a debilitating aneurysm, learned to sing again.
It really shakes me, because Joni has singled out “Both Sides, Now” — that song that you sang as a little girl — as a song that, quote, “I grew into.” Even though she wrote it, it resonates with her now in a way that she couldn’t comprehend when she had recorded it.
So as you’re revisiting songs like “Born to Be Blue,” “River of Time,” “I Know Where I’m Going,” for the first time in several years… you recorded them in your twenties, maybe even your teens – and you’ve realized so many dreams, and survived devastations, and you’re singing these songs for the first time as a grandmother. Similar to what Joni said about “Both Sides, Now,” do any of these songs stir your spirit in a way that you couldn’t have comprehended [when you recorded them]?
Wynonna: Yeah. They really do. One of them is “River of Time,” that you just brought up. [recites line] “Silence so deep, only my soul can hear.” She wrote that years ago, and I’m experiencing that with her not being here. [Editor’s note: Wynonna is referring to how “River of Time” was co-authored by her mother, Naomi Judd.] That line, right there, just completely takes me. I have a hard time singing it every night; I don’t make it through very well on that line.
“Love Can Build a Bridge” is really, really hard for me to sing every night. It’s when I really realize she’s not here. [Editor’s note: “Love Can Build a Bridge” is another song that Naomi co-authored.] You know, there are distractions, and moments when I’m just soldiering through – and then, all of a sudden during that song, I’m standing there by myself… and I look around, and she’s on the screen behind me, and we’re singing it together… and I’m an orphan.
I’m dealing with the loss of her not being here, and struggling to understand why. And it’s a personal mission for me to walk through this mystery, with as much integrity as I can. And it’s not always… you know, I don’t always have the best of days — but I keep on, because I’m a grandmother. So it’s definitely layered. It’s definitely layered. I have so many different emotions while singing those songs.
Ian: I’m kind of shocked that this came to mind — but as you talked about that “mystery,” um, I grew up Catholic, and I’m still Catholic… I remember, one of the lines that we would say in church is “let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” [Editor’s note: this phrase is the “Mysterium fidei,” recited to introduce the Memorial Acclamation during Communion.]
As you talk about “River of Time,” and characterizing it in that way — you know, that “mystery,” it brings me back to that. I don’t even know where I’m going with that, but, um… (pause) I had not – gosh, what a vivid thing. And I don’t mean to distract, but, um… (laughs) Sorry, I was just very struck by that. It’s interesting, how different things can be conjured by the listeners of your songs, as you reflect on them.
Wynonna: You’re one of my favorite interviewers! You and Hunter [Kelley of Apple Music] both are my favorite interviewers, because you get it. You understand it on a level that’s deeper than the surface. And I really appreciate that, because you’re not distracting me at all.
As a matter of fact, I just wrote down “mystery of faith,” because that’s where I’m at. So this is a two-way street, here. I’m getting a lot from what you’re saying, because it is true. It’s a mystery of faith. I recently sat, looking out over an ocean, and I thought, “this is as deep as the ocean, trying to figure this thing out — life and death, [witnessing] both at the same time — is just the greatest mystery of life.” So “mystery of faith,” I love that saying, because that line is so vivid in my imagination right now.
Ian: Gosh, I never would’ve imagined that something said so often in church as a child would circle back in this moment… you know, “river of time.” Wow! And thank you for saying that. That is so… you know, I don’t even know what to say. And Hunter is such a great interviewer; to be said in the same sentence as him means a lot.
Wynonna: Well, you’re both very similar. You both come from a different way of expression. And I think it’s really important, because I do so many interviews, and I think you two are deep. And you think very, very much about the different layers that… (pause) you know, because sometimes, what makes an interview so good is going off the beaten path. That’s kind of the way I see the two of you. You are so good at conjuring up different emotions, and feelings, and thoughts — which is a gift! That’s such a gift. Like, the way that you had expressed Joni Mitchell is profound to me, because I love and adore her in a way that’s as deep as the ocean. I love her so much, that she’s such a part of my world every day. What you said about “Both Sides, Now” — growing into it — that’s profound to me.
Ian: Well, I know we’re out of time. I wanted to ask you about “Broken and Blessed,” because we talked about it last time. The reason I wanted to ask about this – you know, we were just talking about the paths in “River of Time,” and I guess this is about the path forward. Like I said, your interview last year, playing it back, both me and my producer kind of teared up. You talked about a song you were writing, called “Broken and Blessed.” And at the time — this was March 30th [of 2022] — you had said [that] one key driver of writing it, was the complex feelings that you grappled with as a mother of somebody who was incarcerated. Which is something that a lot of people… you know, it’s not talked about often, and a lot of us can relate to that. I’ve had family in that same situation.
You know, I guess I’m shook. Because, since March 30th, so much has happened that would leave you feeling “Broken and Blessed.” For example, your daughter, thank God, is now free; and she’s now a mom, herself. You have a granddaughter, who you’ve said sings back to you, which has got to be so sweet. You’ve grown closer to your sister [actress Ashley Judd]. You’re touring arenas across the country, 40 years after your first record — but it was supposed to be with your mom, who you lost in an unfathomably traumatic manner, in the global eye. To think that that interview was less than a year ago, and you’ve had quite the run of “breakings” and “blessings” since you were already putting that together, often in such close proximity… what are your thoughts on the rollercoaster of writing this song? And what do you hope that people will reflect on, as you prepare to release it after bringing The Judds’ marquee to a close?
Wynonna: I’m really humbled. I think all of this has really gotten me in a place of just… (pause) accepting, that’s the word. Accepting and surrendering. Acceptance and surrender are the two things that you deal with in the five stages of grief, and there are now six stages of grief. And the sixth stage of grief is finding meaning. I’m trying to find meaning in all of this. What is the meaning of my granddaughter being born? She is the hope of the future.
And I just spoke to my daughter, who is now free, and we’re talking about getting together on Valentine’s Day and making chocolate covered strawberries. Something very simple; and, yet, it’s a real blessing. It’s an honor to be able to be with her, physically, in the same room. And not taking that for granted, if that makes sense. You don’t take for granted once you’ve lost them. So we now have a renewed understanding of what it means to be together. And just in that moment of being together, that’s enough. We don’t have to have a special meal or anything exciting. Just being together is enough. So those are the things that I’m noticing.
I’m really relying upon the simplicity of the next right thing. And that is what I’m experiencing right now, is just in a simple doing something: brushing my hair — getting ready for the show, brushing my hair — and putting sparkles in my hair is a holy moment, because I’ll never do that the same way ever again. Just noticing little things that I’m doing, and making them sort of a prayerful honor back to God, if that makes sense. Everything becomes a little bit of a prayer, is my point.
Ian: Mm-hmm. “Let us proclaim this mystery of faith.”
Wynonna: That’s exactly it, “let us proclaim this mystery of faith” — and that’s what I’m doing. So each thing is an act of service, and an honor to be able to do that. It’s an honor to get out of bed. It’s an honor to have good health. It’s an honor to say, “thank you, Lord, for this meal.” It’s an honor to be able to walk on stage, with my brand-new guitar that Gibson gave to me as a gift. It’s a gift to be able to sing, and to receive back from the fans their gratitude. So it all becomes this prayerful give-back to the one who brought us.
I’m really relying upon the simplicity of the next right thing. And that is what I’m experiencing right now, is just in a simple doing something: brushing my hair — getting ready for the show, brushing my hair — and putting sparkles in my hair is a holy moment, because I’ll never do that the same way ever again. Just noticing little things that I’m doing, and making them sort of a prayerful honor back to God, if that makes sense. Everything becomes a little bit of a prayer, is my point. – Wynonna Judd on making meaning after the loss of her mother
Ian: Well, I’m humbled and honored for your time. We’re so excited for you to come to Charleston on the 18th, and I’m especially excited for you to [reciting from The Judds’ “Why Not Me”] “finally come down to my old hometown” of Dayton. (laugh)
Wynonna: Well, I look forward to you being there, my dear!
Ian: Yes! I thank you once again, and good luck with this weekend.
Wynonna: Thank you, friend. I appreciate you.
Ian: Thank you, Wynonna!
Wynonna: Okay, honey, bye for now.
The Judds’ Final Tour plays the Nutter Center in Dayton, OH on Saturday, February 11; and the Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, WV on the following Saturday, February 18. Little Big Town is the special guest for Dayton, and Tanya Tucker for Charleston. Martina McBride opens all shows of The Final Tour. For tickets, and a full tour itinerary, visit thejudds.com.