Judds Reunion Hits High and Low Notes

Offering the night as “living proof that there’s always hope,” The Judds welcomed 11,000 country music devotees to Nashville Saturday night at AmSouth Amphitheatre. Many in the audience were early arrivals for Fan Fair, which begins today (June 12). As they have throughtout their “Power to Change” Reunion Tour, the famed mother-daughter duo kicked off their concert — the first of their second leg of the tour — with “Love Can Build a Bridge,” the same song with which they closed their Farewell Tour in 1991. They performed the song with a 25-member choir and retrospective video tour of their career together, ushering in a concert of highs and lows.

“This is our living room, this is our home, this is a come-as-you-are party,” intoned Mama Naomi, before the band launched into a driving set of Judds favorites — “Girls Night Out,” “Rockin’ With the Rhythm” and “Have Mercy.” It quickly became apparent that, despite an eight-year absence from the stage that ended New Year’s Eve, Naomi has not lost her penchant for twirling, theatrical gestures and vamping. And Wynonna confidently carries the music. The Judds are still The Judds, although Wynonna is no longer in the shadow of her more-animated mother. At 36, the younger of the singing Judds conveys her own personality to the audience as she sings, whether with the light touch of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me,” the longing of “Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do)” or the all-out gospel groove of Macy Gray’s “I Can’t Wait to Meet You,” all of which appear on her latest solo effort New Day Dawning.

Musically, the two-and-a-half hour concert was very solid, whether the pair delivered Judds hits such as “River of Time,” “Love Is Alive” and “Girls Night Out,” or Wynonna offered solo songs such as “Tell Me Why,” “No One Else on Earth” or “Come Some Rainy Day.” However, there were flaws in the presentation. About two-thirds into the show, the duo attempted an acoustic set from the middle of the audience, visible to perhaps 100 or so concert-goers. The move dashed the momentum of the show during the performance of some of the most beloved Judds songs — “Mama He’s Crazy” and “Grandpa (Tell Me About the Good Old Days).”

The show skidded into the silly — and even slightly bizarre — when Naomi, adorned like Glinda the Good Witch in Oz, complete with tiara, basket of “pixie dust” and magic wand, appeared on the stage during Wynonna’s performance of “Why Not Me.” As Naomi kissed the wand before touching the heads of fans with it, Wynonna announced that her mother was there to let people know that “your dreams really can come true.” This spectacle ended the regular show.

Fortunately, The Judds managed to recover from their pretensions when they returned to the stage for their encore, which included a breathtaking a cappella version of “How Great Thou Art,” sung by Wynonna and her stellar trio of backing vocalists. Naomi and the choir came back for the finale, a rousing rendition of “Freedom.”

CMA Horizon Award winner Jo Dee Messina energetically opened the evening’s festivities with a 45-minute set of some of her hits, as well as a preview of her upcoming Burn album, due Aug. 1.