Wynonna has never been one to hide her feelings. She laughs at the slightest joke and cries at the most heinous of tragedies, and most of all, she always has been the first to admit that she ain’t any different than the rest of us—even though she has five Grammy Awards sitting on her shelf.
So, as she prepares to return to her Kentucky home for holiday concerts in Glasgow Dec. 5 and Danville Dec. 6* as part of her “A Simpler Christmas” tour, the fiery, red-haired beauty ain’t about to pretend that coming home is easy. [*Editor's note: an appearance in Owensboro has since been scheduled for Dec. 4]
“You know, I grew up in Kentucky,” she begins, shortly after waking up for the day in the comfort of her sprawling Tennessee home. “I feel so tied to so many memories there, and when I come into town for a show, it’s a real reminder of where I come from. I truly have to get myself in the right mindset for these shows. I can get very melancholy, and if I am not careful, I can start living in the past again.”
And then, when the emotion seems almost too much to take, Wynonna finds a sliver of humor in it all. “I mean, seriously, I feel like I am related to everybody when I come to Kentucky,” she continues with hardly a pause. “I feel like Miss America when I am there. It’s like I need to go door to door to door and say, ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Vote for Me.’ [Laughs] I have always felt like an ambassador for Kentucky. It’s like a big family reunion every time I go back.”
The habit of turning the bad into the good has been something Wynonna has long been known for and something she has had to resort to throughout her life. “I laugh a lot,” she says quietly. “If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I wouldn’t make it.”
Oh, she is so making it. Wynonna returns to her Kentucky home next month alongside the love of her life, the beginnings of a brand new album, and a certain contentment of finally being in a place “of more joy than ever.”
Her Kentucky Home
Much has been written about the upbringing of Wynonna Judd. Before finding the spotlight via hit songs such as “I Saw the Light,” “She Is His Only Need” and “No One Else on Earth,” Wynonna was simply the daughter of Naomi and the sister of Ashley and a little girl from Appalachia who could never trust that her Christmas would look like everyone else’s.
“My life has been hard, filled with ups and downs and all arounds,” explains Wynonna, whose relationship with her Judds partner and mom, Naomi, was documented in a wildly popular OWN docu-series. “We had nothing when we were in Kentucky. But especially during the holidays, I was keenly aware of the have-nots. Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry thinking back on those times.”
There were the Christmas mornings when there was nothing under the tree—but there was snow on the ground. The years that there were presents, when Wynonna would open them early only to tape them all back together before anyone would become suspicious. “My mother can laugh about it now, but I will never forget the year that I got her a hammer for Christmas,” she recalls. “We always had to build stuff, and at 4 years old, I thought my mom would need a hammer to do that.”
There were random glimmers of heartwarming moments in what was an obviously challenging childhood. “My fondest memory was chopping down the Christmas tree and Ashley sitting on it as we dragged it back to the house,” says Wynonna. “The holidays were all about fellowship and food and music and the tree. But yes, it’s a very interesting dynamic when I’m here going out to do this holiday tour jacking my hair up to Jesus and with all of this sparkle … considering where I came from.”
Feeling “blessed to be a blessing” during the holiday season for the multitudes of fans who come out to see her, Wynonna looks to embarking on the second year of her “A Simpler Christmas” tour as just another way to celebrate all that she has become.
“I love being able to come to Kentucky to remind everyone for an hour and a half what is really important about this time of the year,” says Wynonna of the tour that will kick off Dec. 3 in Ohio and run through the closing show in South Carolina on Dec. 21. “I try to focus on the positive and try to never fall into the trap of living in the past.”
To get in the holiday mood, Wynonna fills the tour bus with gifts given to her by her fans, from cookies to crocheted toilet paper holiday covers—giving her a reprieve from the never-ending commercialism of the holiday that makes her cringe.
“We work our butts off to bring joy to what can be a very difficult time for so many,” she says. “It’s about battling all the commercialism and expectations. I mean, everyone can’t be Martha Stewart or make their own do-it-yourself project every day. I mean, seriously, let’s weave our own sweaters on a loom? The tour has a funny way of keeping me away from all of that. I stay out of the mall and just order out of the catalogs. Then they all arrive on my doorstep so I can wrap them when I get home.”
Another laugh ensues. “Who am I kidding? I put everything in those darn gift bags.”
The Year Ahead
Wynonna doesn’t like to talk about how she is now 50 years old. She prefers to consider herself “18 years old with 32 years of experience.” Nevertheless, the milestone has provided quite the wakeup call for her. “It’s been very hard … I’m not going to lie,” admits the mother of two. “It was the reality check I didn’t want to face. I am at a time in my life when my kids are gearing up for greatness. They don’t need me except for an occasional snack and for me to do their laundry. I’m definitely dealing with a bit of the empty nest syndrome, coupled with changes in my body and my career.”
There it is yet again—the laughter.
“Touring is harder than ever … I mean, I had to wear those darn compression socks the other day on a flight! I was ready to rock ’em, though. Women my age get it. You just have to laugh.”
Nevertheless, Wynonna has much to look forward to. She recently unveiled her own bedazzled shoe line. Wynonna and her husband of two years, Cactus Moser, recently wrote an original song, “Follow Me,” for the film The Hornet’s Nest. And yes, she is currently working on her eighth solo studio album, expected to be released in 2015 on Curb Records.
“I want to make country music history with this one,” she says. “That’s just the attitude I have to have. I have to believe that we are going to come out victorious, and I have to bank on the fact that this music will be something good and worthwhile. And so far, what’s been coming out of me has been bizarre and adventurous and elegant and so Wynonna. People have said that they have never heard my voice sound better.”
No matter what the New Year holds for her and her family and her career, Wynonna says she finds herself quite content with the life the good Lord has given her. “It has been said that God made the spring to get us through the winter,” she says in her quietest of voices. “Today, I feel grateful for a life where I have the stage and I have my farm and that I have a back porch that I can walk out on and see a full moon shining over my land. That’s my life—and I love it.”
If you go …
Wynonna & The Big Noise
A Simpler Christmas Tour
Owensboro Convention Center
(270) 687-8800, owensborocenter.com
(270) 361-2101, plaza.org
Norton Center for the Arts
Kentucky Monthly is proud to be a media partner for the Norton Center performance.