Rock ‘N’ Roll: Meeting Joan Jett, and the Harsh Reality of Life Backstage


Left to right: Andrea Swensson, Joan Jett, Lori Barbero, and Mary Beth Mueller // Photo by Andrea Swensson

Editor’s note: This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and 89.3 The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at

The snow was falling hard and fast in fat, sloppy flakes the night I pulled into Mankato, Minnesota, to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. It was the kind of storm that we’ve been getting a lot of this spring; one that starts suddenly and dangerously but then dissipates, leaving everyone confused and the streets soaked and glistening. As it turns out, it was the perfect setting for the latest in a series of bizarre brushes I’ve had with rock ’n’ roll royalty.

For a concert taking place smack dab in the middle of Women’s History Month, it felt appropriate that my companions for this evening were a pair of legendary local ladies: Mary Beth Mueller and Lori Barbero. Mary Beth, the widow of Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller and founder of the non-profit organization Kill Kancer, was behind the wheel; Lori Barbero, who just picked up her sticks to drum in the recently reunited Babes in Toyland, kept our spirits high with her constant laughter in the backseat.

You know that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where the mustachioed gatekeeper of Oz doesn’t want to be bothered by the bunch of lowly travelers ringing his bell, but as soon as he sees Dorothy’s ruby slippers the gates swing wide open? That was what it was like going to a concert with a couple of rock-scene vets like Lori and Mary Beth. Between the two of them we ended up getting something like five backstage passes at will-call, and before we knew it we were being ushered up to a prime spot on the arena floor to watch Joan Jett command the cavernous arena room.

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Attending a concert with Minnesota rock ‘n’ roll royalty like Lori Barbero (left) and Mary Beth Mueller (right) has its perks // Photo by Andrea Swensson

Joan was ferocious, and watching her perform made me feel invincible. She was dressed in a sparkly jumpsuit that cut down so low on her chest that you could see the chevron tattoo on her sternum. The uninhibited way she flung her tiny, sculpted frame around the stage and told dirty jokes between songs was nothing short of inspirational. Did I mention she’s 56? When she set up the intro to her Runaways hit “Cherry Bomb,” the entire room exploded. Between Lori bopping to the beat and pumping her fist in the aisle and Mary Beth laughing and snapping photos, it made for one of those giddy and empowering concert moments that I won’t soon forget.

There was hardly any time to soak up all that glorious, glowing energy after the set, though, because we were suddenly on the move again. Lori flashed the backstage passes from her pocket and we were led behind a curtain and into the back hallways of the arena. It was then, and only then, that the reality of the situation started to sink in. Oh no. We were about to meet Joan Jett.

For so many music fans, the mere idea of going backstage has an intoxicating appeal. If musicians can be that mesmerizing on stage, what kind of magical activities must they be getting up to on the other side of that velvet rope? It isn’t just enticing. It’s enough to drive people mad.

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to see people who I thought were otherwise well-adjusted individuals turn into raging assholes in pursuit of getting backstage, their egos inflated to the size of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. I’ve seen friendships buckle when one person slips backstage at the Varsity while another is forced to stand in the crowd with the mere mortals. And I’ve seen grown men throw temper tantrums in an effort to convince Conrad at First Avenue that their friends are totally back there, man, and they should be, too.

Next Page: Is back stage all it’s cracked up to be?

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About Andrea Swensson, The Current

Andrea Swensson is a music reporter at Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current and the host of The Local Show and The O.K. Show. She has been covering music in the Twin Cities since 2005, including a four-year stint as the music editor of City Pages. Hear Andrea on the Current on Sunday nights from 6 to 8 p.m.

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