The fans were ready. As sound and mic checks were made, the audience began clapping in unison to the cheesy pre-concert music. Their red haired siren was nowhere in sight, but they were letting her know: She was wanted, and she was loved.
Love seemed to be the theme of the night for Wynonna Judd and her audience. The singer received a warm and lengthly welcome of applause as she took the Seneca Niagara Event Center stage Friday night, and she returned the kindness with several minutes of big smiles and royal waves.
As she opened with "Heaven Help My Heart," the singer paused several times to point to excited fans, even stopping to pose for those with cameras for a photo op or two.
"I'm so glad you're here tonight," she told the crowd in the middle of "Heart." And it truly seemed she was.
As the night went on, it became clear that as much as she enjoys singing, Judd loves storytelling. She took time in between songs to discuss her travels with her mother, her mounds of fan mail, and her relationship with God. Yet the strong theme of the night was centered around discovering self-love, and letting her fans know that she appreciated them as much as they appreciate her.
"I want you to feel, I want you to be, I want you to relax," Judd instructed her audience. "This is your time."
And it was. The crowd was treated to several Wynonna favorites, including "Rock Bottom," "Tell Me Why," and the peaceful, heartfelt ballad "Only Love."
The crowd went wild for the powerful "I Want to Know What Love is," and they sang loud and clear along to the chorus of "Mama, He's Crazy."
Yet it was "That Was Yesterday," the great jazzy, biting breakup song that showcased Judd's ability to transition from country twang to bluesy soul in a matter of minutes. As she snarled into the mic about a horrific relationship, listeners could only think one thing: I hope I don't ever make this woman angry.
Thankfully, anger was one of the emotions missing throughout the night, though many others were displayed. Judd playfully stopped in the middle of one of her pieces to shake her head and tap at her watchless wrist at several latecomers who wandered in. Later she admitted she had forgotten the words to one of her songs, and giggled away her mistake.
Just as quickly as she was ready to crack jokes with the audience, Judd turned serious and preached to her audience about her recent discovery of self-worth. She announced that she had sat down with her ever-feuding family, and offered forgiveness, hoping to cast aside the negativity in her life.
Although the sentiments were well-intentioned and sincere, the concert started to sound more like a therapy session rather than a country show at times. As Judd told the crowd "It's OK to be yourself," and "It's about the journey, not the destination," the cliches started to pile up next to her classics.
Then again, the entire show was proof that the singer truly wants to help and better herself and her fans, and she closed the night walking to sections of the stage and pointing to the audience.
"You are loved," she told the crowd. "And so are you, and you."
The love that started the show was returned.
What a perfect ending.
Friday night in Seneca Events Center of Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel, Niagara Falls. Another performance at 7 tonight in Seneca Events Center of Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel, Salamanca. For more information, call 945-9300 or visit www.senecaalleganycasino.com.