Editor’s Note: Help for people who are experiencing emotional distress is available by calling 988, the national Suicide and Crisis Hotline.

During the encore of her Dayton, Ohio, concert last week, Wynonna Judd stopped suddenly and called for help. 

She felt dizzy. Dehydrated. 

“Let’s just skip to ‘Grandpa,’ ” she said quietly, trying to figure out how to end the show, but quickly forged on:

 “No, no, if I faint, just take a lot of pictures,” and with that she launched into the first song of her encore, “Mama He’s Crazy,” one of the biggest hits from her illustrious career with her late mother, Naomi Judd. Naomi died by suicide five months before this tour —billed as their last together – was scheduled to begin.

The whole tour has been an exercise in forging on. 

As Wynonna and the audience sang the first verse together, a crew member brought a stool on stage. 

“Screw the stool,” she said. “I’m going down big.” She made it through the song on two feet. 

Sitting down, Wynonna spoke to the audience again, with wisdom directed to herself, her fans, and, one could assume, to her late mother: “It’s OK to reach out for help.” 

Naomi appeared on the screen behind her in the 1986 video for “Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days),” young and beautiful, as Wynonna and her audience sang their way through the song, together. 

This was my second show on what was billed originally as the Judds Final Tour. I bought tickets thinking I would see Naomi and Wynonna together. Their music and their story was a background soundtrack to my childhood growing up in Eastern Kentucky. Seeing them together seemed like something I didn’t want to miss. 

After Naomi’s death, Wynonna decided to carry on with the tour, with the support of other country artists like Brandi Carlile, Ashley McBryde, and Trisha Yearwood, at her side, singing harmony and sharing the emotional labor of showing up. The tour continues through February 25. 

The first show I attended was in October, the second date on the tour. I was blown away by the power of her voice and her vulnerable, deep pain (not to mention her gorgeous long red hair and flowing fringed outfit or the sly on-stage kiss from her husband and drummer Cactus Moser). Being there felt holy. Her sister, the actress Ashley Judd, appeared on stage with Wy to share memories of their mother. The evening felt equal parts concert and memorial, with all of us bearing witness to unimaginable grief and courage. 

In Dayton, four months later, Wynonna and her band delivered the same mighty sounds, with Wy sharing words of both gratitude and wisdom from her current situation and long, complicated relationship with her mother.

Throughout the show, she thanked her fans for their tireless support. I attended both shows with two friends, one who grew up in rural Ohio listening to the Judds’ hits, and my cousin, who like me, had grown up in awe of the Ashland, Kentucky-to-Nashville, hard scrabble, rags-to-riches story of the stunning and talented Naomi and Wynonna: their dresses and hair, their harmonies and playful humor. Around us: two men on a date, groups of girlfriends, elderly women, a mother and her adult son, an older man in overalls snuggling his wife, all singing every word. 

After Naomi’s death, I questioned whether it was wise for Wynonna to do these shows. Now I’m confident she couldn’t have done anything else but carry on. The tour celebrates Naomi’s musical legacy, but it’s Wynonna’s raw wisdom that the world will remember. She often asked the crowd to “sing it to me” – perhaps something she’s done in many shows before this tour, but this time, it came with a different weight. As the audience sang each word, a chorus filling the arena, their supporting vocals gave Wynonna a moment to listen and rest. 

The Final Tour will not be Wynonna’s last. She’s hinted in interviews about new music to come. Yet it marked a moment in country music history where fans saw what it looks like to reach out for help. Saith Queen Wy: Screw the stool, forge on, and lean on those who love you. 

Tracy Staley is a writer and communications professional in Dayton, Ohio, by way of Hazard, Kentucky. She clings to her roots through writing, reading and music and spends her days as a digital marketer at a Lexington, Kentucky-based marketing agency. 

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