ATLANTA — “I’ve come because I need a job,” Wynonna humbly told the audience just after finishing her first song at an Atlanta concert on Friday evening (July 27). “I’m a working mom, and I need a job. I’m 43 years old, and I’m happy to be here.”
The well-heeled folks at Chastain Park Amphitheatre were quite happy to see her, too, and not just because she finally started the show 40 minutes late. (You can bring your own wine and dinner to the venue, so not a lot of people seem bothered by her tardiness.) However, once she finally arrived, she wasted no time striking up conversations and shaking hands with people at the front tables. A few songs in, “She Is His Only Need” was interrupted by enthusiastic whoops and hollers when she glided into the falsetto range. At that moment, she knew she was surrounded by people who still love to listen to her music — proving, once again, the loyalty of country fans should never be underestimated.
With an intimate setting and pleasant weather, Wynonna openly chatted with the audience almost as much as she sang. She may be the only Nashville singer who would sincerely announce, “I’m so much more than a number on a scale or a chart,” and such candor is one of the reasons her fans show up year after year.
Her stage patter may drive a casual fan crazy, with all the talk of “it’s not what you do, it’s who you are” and “being unique is lonely” and “all you can do is show up and suit up and wait for God to walk through the door,” etc. Right in the middle of singing “I Will Be,” she remarked to no one in particular, “I may not be where I want to be, but I’m sure not where I was,” without elaborating further. Taking notes at her concert is a little bit like being the psychiatrist at a therapy session. Naturally, the hardcore Judd-heads eat it up like banana pudding.
Yet, those who came strictly for the hits certainly went home satisfied. Considering the abundance of great music coming out of Nashville in the 1990s, Wynonna always held her own with “Heaven Help My Heart,” “Tell Me Why,” “Rock Bottom,” “Only Love” and “To Be Loved by You,” all of which still sound terrific in concert.
She also dipped into the Judds’ repertoire (“Mama He’s Crazy,” “Grandpa,” “Love Can Build a Bridge”). Don Potter, the producer who played on those original Judds sessions, led her all-new band on guitar. Despite the duo’s reunion show in Atlantic City on July 5, her mother, Naomi, didn’t show up here, although Wynonna did say, “It seems like just yesterday when she was twirling around on the stage. I miss her.”
Do you remember when Wynonna belted out “I Want to Know What Love Is” on Oprah a few years ago, and everybody started to cry, including Naomi, Ashley and even Oprah herself? That’s a Judd-head moment, when “celebrity” intertwines with the music. Sometimes Wy’s notoriety leans more toward fame (the scandalous divorces, the weight battles) than the music. Luckily she leaves that drama at the door when she takes the stage. You couldn’t miss her empowering spirit when she covered the pop hit, “I Can Only Imagine,” and she isn’t shy about tackling the lush Etta James standard, “At Last.” Even better, she nails it.
Sometimes you wonder what makes an artist take such a risk, stepping beyond the borders of what’s expected. Of course, you don’t have to ponder much with Wynonna because she’ll just go ahead and tell you.
“After I turned 40, I said, ‘Enough is enough,’” she confessed, in one of many interludes from the microphone. “I’m just going to be myself and see if I get paid for it.”