Without a doubt, Wynonna Judd (right, photo by Kristin Barlowe) has major reasons to be thankful. Since the 1980s, the country star has sold millions of albums, won multiple industry awards and performed for crowds of thousands of fans. At 50, she still tours and sells out concerts.
Yet the sassy singer, who still rocks her signature red hair and sparkly stage presence, describes with tender seriousness a day she felt grateful for one of life’s simplest pleasures: being outside, feeling a fresh breeze on her face.
It wasn’t just any day. It was the first day, after weeks, she and her husband together left the hospital—him in a wheelchair in public for the first time.
A couple months earlier, in August 2012, the singer and Cactus Moser—her husband and the drummer in her band, The Big Noise—went for a motorcycle ride before performing a concert in South Dakota. At one point during the ride, Moser drifted into the opposite lane, colliding with an oncoming vehicle. Judd witnessed the entire event.
Moser’s left leg, which severed on scene, had to be amputated above the knee. It was weeks before he was able to leave the hospital for an afternoon, and for that he and Judd were incredibly thankful.
“They gave me a day pass. You would’ve thought they’d given us tickets to Disney World,” Judd recalls. “We cried the entire time. We were both so grateful to be out of that small hospital space.
“We got in the car and pulled out of the driveway and looked at each other like, ‘This is it. This is our life.’ We pulled into the handicapped parking spot [of a restaurant], and I remember thinking: You never could’ve told me this in a million years.”
Today, Moser is back on stage, touring with his wife and The Big Noise. The group will stop at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers on December 10 to perform songs from Judd’s holiday album; tickets start at $50. Things aren’t totally back to normal, Judd acknowledges, but Moser keeps a steady beat in her professional and personal life—and occasionally steals the spotlight.
“He’s 6’2”, a major cowboy-outdoors guy, and it’s just hard for him sometimes. And yet he goes on stage, and he attacks the drums in a way I’ve never seen in my lifetime,” she says. “It’s been a pretty interesting ride for me to watch.”
Judd, for her part, is every bit as outgoing and flamboyant as she was when she was one half of The Judds, the chart-topping mother-daughter duo that sold more than 20 million albums and garnered five Grammy Awards throughout the 1980s. For concerts, she’s still slipping into a corset and sequined gown and, as she describes, “jacking my hair to Jesus.” And she still has that spunky personality: Ask her how she is, and her response is, “Groooovy.” When her phone starts talking unexpectedly, she talks back: “Siri, seriously. I’m trying to do an interview right now. Quiet.”
Except now—after public ups and downs, including rocky relationships with her mother, Naomi, and sister, Ashley—she’s a mix of grit and gratitude.
“I am such a paradox,” she says. “I am a woman with experience and wisdom in a teenage girl’s body. I have such piss and vinegar, and I’m also extremely humbled by being in the business and having survived so many changes.”
Even the small change, she acknowledges, of just being thankful to be outdoors.
“In a hospital setting, a week feels like a month, and a month turns into feeling like years. It’s just so condensed,” she says. “Your awareness is heightened. Every little thing, like walking out of the doors and no longer being in that hospital environment with that smell of disinfectant, and you walk outside and you feel the breeze on your face, you think: Wow. I’m really grateful to be outside.” (772-461-4775)
What’s your show like today?
I’m just singing about what’s real to me, and the music that’s coming out is surprising even me. …
What I’m finding is how much I’m enjoying just slamming that guitar. I just love to go out on stage. I get lost in the music. I still do. I go out on stage, and I feel like I just have the time of my life. It’s so passionate for me. …
I think my shows are a combination of a lot of different subjects, and I’ve summed it up to be a tragic comedy. I just feel like my story is one of one minute you’re laughing and the next minute you’re crying, because I am. I’m trying to figure out: How in the world did I end up here? I marvel at the fact that I ended up here.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
I wish I would’ve had a better concept of saving my money and not being so arrogant [and having] that feeling that you’re going to live forever. … I wish I hadn’t been so busy thinking about what’s next. That doesn’t allow you to fully live in the moment. I don’t know that I looked around as much and took it all in.
My mother was the one who was the historian. She would stop and take the pictures. I look at a photo today and go, “Oh my gosh, we’re standing in front of the Apollo.” …
As I raise my kids, I’m always saying, “Don’t go so fast. You’re going to miss this beautiful moment right now.” … You try to stay focused on what you’re getting ready to do, but to appreciate being in the moment at the same time is kind of hard to do when you’re young.
Do you have any holidays traditions?
My mother used to do this with us back when we were definitely pre-The Judds professional. We were on welfare in Appalachia. [But] we had everything because we had each other, but we had nothing financially. I just remember our traditions were always about doing these really simple things. Well, in the world today that we live in, I find myself doing some of the same things that she did because they leave an imprint on a child. …
We bundle up and take a walk into the woods, and we read the Christmas story. My mom used to do it at night, because it was much more dramatic, and she was a dramatic kind of person. She would make us sit there [laughs] and we’d be all bundled up, our teeth chattering, and she would have us read this Christmas story and we would fight over who gets to hold the candles. It was this really simple [concept]: “I want them to be cold and realize what it was like.” You know what? Where Jesus was born, it probably wasn’t even cold, but my mom, darn it, was going to make sure we got it. [laughs]
I find myself doing stuff like that with [my children] Grace, Elijah and Cactus’ kids. The holidays are tough, and expectations are high, and we do what we can to avoid that kind of pressure. That’s why we go on a Christmas tour [laughs]. …
We say what we’re thankful for. I’m pretty surprised at the things that come out of these kids’ mouths. It’s a moment to stop and be grateful, which I think is really important. … It keeps us grounded no matter how successful we become.
What’s next for you?
Doing what it is God gave me the gift to do, which is to sing, tell stories and try to make a difference in someone’s day. I love what I do. I do it with everything I have.
I still have it, as they say. I think I have it because of everything I’ve been through, and I appreciate it more now than I did. It’s taken me a lot to get back to where I’m at from the accident to now, leaving my mom and deciding I’m going to be a survivor, not a victim.
I’m very conscientious about how this business has changed so much, and I’ve carved my initials in the tree. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay and claim my victory, and I’m going to be who I am, do what I do and get away with as much as I can until they tell me to stop it [laughs].