When Joan Jett and the Blackhearts perform at Summerfest on Thursday, Sept. 8, Milwaukee’s Toni Zirnhelt will be there and celebrating her 100th live Joan Jett concert.
Zirnhelt first saw Jett 40 years ago – when she was 12 in 1981 – at the Wisconsin State Fair.
“I snuck into the state fair with my best friend and while walking around I heard Joan warming up with her band. I didn’t even know she was playing that night, but I loved the song ‘I Love Rock & Roll’ so we peeked through the fence to see and I was mesmerized. I’m pretty sure that’s when I fell in love with her.”
Zirnhelt immediately left the fair, ran six blocks home and begged her mother to buy her a $12 ticket.
“My mom being my mom said ‘who the f*ck is Joan Jett?’”
Zirnhelt’s mother went on to say that she didn’t have the money for tickets, but then gave her the cash anyway.
“My mom said ‘you kids think I’m made of money’ but then she got up – a cig hanging out of her mouth – and went to her purse and handed me her credit card and said ‘get four tickets,’” says Zirnhelt.
Zirnhelt attended the concert that night with her friends and her mother, who instantly became a fan of Jett as well.
“Thank god my mom loved her too because she later drove us all over to see her,” says Zirnhelt.
Over the past four decades, Zirnhelt attended concerts all over the state of Wisconsin as well as in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Las Vegas, Nevada. She has meet Jett through meet-and-greets 18 times.
“She is always so kind and humble and really takes time to meet her fans. That’s one of the many reasons why she is my hero,” says Zirnhelt.
After her 60th show, she met Jett through a friend after a Summerfest concert. “We talked for like 10 minutes,” says Zirnhelt. “She asked me if I had anything for her to sign and I said, ‘Yes, my boob,’ and so she did.”
Another of her favorite encounters with Jett took place when she performed at a Packers kick-off party in Green Bay. Every fan got 30 seconds to meet Jett and have a photo taken.
“When it was my time to go up, she smiled and said ‘have we met before?’ I said, ‘yes a few times. I met you on my birthday at Ho Chunk,’ and then her manager stepped in and told me to move along but (Jett) put her hand up and said, ‘I’m not done talking to her yet.”
Zirnhelt says she is most drawn to Jett by her lyrics because she writes from her heart and is very open about sharing her experiences.
“Every time a new CD came out I could relate to her music. It was as if she knew what was going on in my life,” says Zirnhelt.
After attending more than 30 concerts, Zirnhelt’s mother passed away in 2017. Thus attending Joan Jett shows is now a way for Zirnhelt to honor her mom’s life.
“I can honestly say I shed a few tears when she sings ‘Hard to Grow Up’ and ‘Fragile.’ They were my mom’s favorites,” she says.
Zirnhelt hopes to meet her before or after her 100th concert this fall at Summerfest.
“I just really love her music and for being the person she is,” says Zirnhelt. “But mostly I love her because she’s a badass rebel.”
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.