In 1991, when mother and daughter Naomi and Wynonna Judd crossed the country on their farewell tour before Naomi retired due to being diagnosed with Hepatitis C, they took along as their opening act a young upstart whose command of the stage threatened to overshadow the duo at nearly every stop. His name: Garth Brooks.
"He would get the crowd riled up so that at any minute you'd think there's going to be a riot," Wynonna tells Rolling Stone Country. "That was his goal every show."
Having witnessed the Garth phenomenon firsthand, the now-50-year-old singer has a unique perspective on today's crop of young, mostly male performers who routinely cite him as an influence. Just as she did then, more than 20 years later, Wynonna recognizes that even if there's a fiddle and banjo onstage, nothing incites a young crowd quite like the over-the-top spectacle of a rock & roll show. But she also has a word of warning.
"These young artists have a lot more moxie," she says. "But there's part of me that wants to show up at one of their gigs and say, 'Be careful with that arrogance because it will kick you in the butt. Your mom's not here to do that, so life will do it for you.' I get the Jason Aldean's and, look, we had Garth opening up for us. But you can't take yourself too seriously."
Wynonna is equal parts wife and mother (son Elijah is 19 and daughter Grace 18) and still something of a wise-ass kid herself — a decade on a tour bus alongside mom will do that to you — so it shouldn't be at all surprising when she confesses, "I'm the kind of person who would walk up to Eric Church and say, 'Eric, take your sunglasses off, dude. It's nighttime!' Just because I'm a knucklehead. For whatever reason he's wearing them, it's none of my business. But I'm the one to say it when everyone else is thinking it."
Still, the woman who has topped the country charts 18 times (four as a solo act), doesn't begrudge any of the newer artists their own success, even if what they're putting out is far removed from her (and her mama's) country music.
"My generation is very different from my son's, I get it," she says. "He'll come in and he'll be singing [Tim McGraw's] 'Truck Yeah.' I probably couldn't have recorded that with my mom. It probably wouldn't have worked. [Laughs] I see these characters in their Duck Dynasty wear, the stuff with all the camo on it. They've got their trucks and that's what's happening. I also know that there's a real hunger for truth for real words for real people in the real world. We need songs of faith and love and hope."
Wynonna is currently working with Cactus Moser, her husband and drummer in her band, the Big Noise, on her latest solo album. No release date for the new project has been set.