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The Judds Turn It Loose

Retrospective reunion tour full of home-style heart, humor and country sass

By Sarah Quelland

It was a reunion tour nine years in the making that brought country music's mother-daughter duo Naomi and Wynonna Judd to the San Jose Arena last Friday (March 3) with supporting act Jo Dee Messina. With their warm stage presence and strong sense of family, the Judds made the cavernous arena feel as intimate as a well-worn living room.

Friendly and inviting, the two opened up their lives to the supportive audience by projecting faded home movies and video footage of Naomi, Wynonna and daughter/sister Ashley.

More than just a reunion, the tour, titled Power to Change, is a celebration of Naomi's return to health. After 15 No. 1 singles and more than 20 million albums sold, Naomi had to retire when she was diagnosed with hepatitis C. She bid a tearful good-bye to her fans and her daughter in 1991 on the Judds' farewell tour, a 116-city stint that grossed more than $21 million and was named the top-grossing concert act of 1991--not bad for two small-town gals from Kentucky.

In many ways, it was that rags-to-riches success story that earned the Judds such a loyal and diverse fan base. In a tattered and beaten version of the American dream, Naomi married her high-school sweetheart and gave birth to Wynonna before graduating. The family moved to the Bay Area, where Ashley was born; three years later, Naomi was divorced. A struggling single mom, she moved her girls back to Kentucky. By 1979, they were on their way to Nashville to pursue their career in country music.

Fans were positively devastated when Naomi announced her untimely retirement. It's been a nine-year battle, but she shows no signs of the hepatitis virus in her system; miraculously, her doctor has proclaimed her cured.

Brimming With Life

Judging from her appearance in San Jose, Naomi, 54, looks to be in perfect health--radiant, vibrant and brimming with life. While Wynonna was hard at work entertaining the crowd, Naomi was flitting around the stage like a gracious hostess making everyone feel welcome.

She went through numerous costume changes, from the opening sparkling sea-mist sequined suit to her concluding fairy godmother dress in which she danced about in a tiara waving a magic wand and gleefully dusting the audience with glitter.

There's a certain amount of delicacy to Naomi, with her dainty features and irresistibly sweet smile. Wynonna confidently balances out the prettiness of the duo with her bold, audacious nature and sharp, fairly sarcastic sense of humor.

All along, it's been Wynonna's tremendous voice that made the Judds stand out from so many other female country artists. Her brassy vocals and gutsy rock and blues edge were only enriched by her mother's softer harmonies. Under Naomi's guidance, she took that voice to the top, both with the Judds and as a solo artist.

After kicking off the show with video footage from their farewell tour, the Judds launched into one of their signature songs, "Love Can Build a Bridge," and brought out members of the local Cathedral of Faith choir to sing backup. They also featured young dancers performing several times throughout the set. Naomi took time out to grouse, "I've been waitin' for nine stinkin' years," to which Wynonna replied "I've missed you." In a gesture of affection they linked hands and sang "Love Is Alive."

Spreading Her Wings

The Judds made a point of performing the classics, including "Mama He's Crazy," "Grandpa," "Turn It Loose," "Why Not Me," "Girl's Night Out," "Rockin' With the Rhythm" "Give a Little Love," "I Know Where I'm Going" and "Have Mercy"--all songs that hit No. 1.

At one point, Naomi exited the stage, and Wynonna launched into some of her solo material including "Tell Me Why," "Can't Nobody Love You (Like I Do)," "No One Else on Earth" and a cover of Joni Mitchell's hit "Help Me." Proudly showing off her daughter throughout the lengthy concert--which ran about two hours--Naomi beamed, "She spread her wings like a beautiful butterfly."

The Judds made a close connection to their fans, surprising everyone on a smaller stage at the back of the arena for several songs. Naomi talked to the fans that crowded around, asked them what country music meant to them and even took a close-up picture of Wynonna with an audience member's camera.

The playful banter between mother and daughter demonstrated a true camaraderie, and both Judds displayed a prankish sense of humor with Wynonna going so far as to prod her mother's breasts and joke about them being real.

After wrapping up on the back stage, they walked the length of the arena--a hallway of adoring fans--to the main stage. At the end of the exciting, emotional concert, the Judds closed with Wynonna's powerful performance of the traditional hymn, "How Great Thou Art," and a song called "Freedom."

It was impossible not to get caught up in the spirit of this special event. As much as a concert is about the music, this concert went beyond that. No longer routine for the Judds, it was genuinely touching to witness the spontaneous joy they share when performing together.

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Web extra to the March 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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