If you were to poll the music crowd in Pittsburgh about their least favorite venue in the city, odds are good you're going to hear a pretty uniform response that it is Key Bank Pavilion based on their notorious parking issues alone.
But if you ask us, we're probably going to say Stage AE is ours.
They don't have the same parking issues, but we found no shortage of things to dislike about this venue after a recent show.
As with our other concert reviews, this one is not about the Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys concert (they were awesome), but is instead all about what Stage AE is like as a concert venue.
Seating at Stage AE
Stage AE has two distinct venues- one indoor and one outdoor.
Generally almost all shows in the summer months will be in the outdoor venue, which contains an ample pit section as well as a grassy lawn that are both standing room only for about 5,500 people.
For winter shows the indoor venue is used, which has enough room for about 2,400 people.
One of the nice things about this particular space is that since the venue is small, no matter where you stand odds are good you'll have a great view and still feel rather close to the stage. In the summer, Heinz Field also helps block the sun later in the day and gives both the audience and performers a bit of reprieve come 8pm.
The sound at Stage AE is also noted to be among the better venues in the city, but we have to note that this is often due to the road crew of the particular bands dialing things in right over the venue at large (but we'll give credit when credit is due as the size really does help).
Overall, if you are looking to check out your favorite band and can deal with standing room only during the show, Stage AE from a purely musical aspect is quite good.
Everything else? Well, that is where the venue falls apart for us.
Parking at Stage AE
In being located in the heart of the North Shore, there are a number of options to park near Stage AE with none being an all-out winner of an option.
Surface lots and garages near the arena vary in price (and how fast they fill up) based on the other events going on nearby. Surface lots can be as low as $7, garages low as $15, but they can go up considerably depending on what else is going on in the North Shore at the time.
The area around the stadiums also has ample metered parking, but during events at PNC Park or Heinz Field the area becomes explicitly no parking such that you'll likely go into a lot all the same.
Our preferred options for parking at Stage AE when this is an issue is either at the garage in downtown Pittsburgh at 6th and Fort Duquesne (typically a flat rate of $8 at night) or at the meters at Allegheny Commons (and pop into Federal Galley for a bite to eat / weeknight happy hour drink) before making the ~12 minute walk over to the venue.
Parking at Stage AE contributes to another problem in that the staff are overly aggressive with enforcing their bag policy and even carry a small placard that they measure women's purses with as they come in (and while they were turning away most everyone even if their bag was a fraction of an inch too large, we still saw a good number of significantly larger bags inside the venue all the same).
So if you get turned away at the gate because your purse is too large, keep in mind it could be a very long round-trip to your car depending on where you parked. And if you Uber or took the T in? Well, you may be out of luck if you get busted.
At least at other venues your car will likely not be that far away to pop a bag in the trunk.
Practical Notes for Stage AE
One of the worst aspects about Stage AE is any time you have to deal with the staff, who during our show were indifferent at best and rude at the worst.
Their enforcement of the bag policies is the first interaction you'll have with them, and while we can understand the need for security at any venue we have to question whether a small hand purse is going to cause an issue when a 12″ clear tote will not. (Can you put a purse inside the clear tote? We're thinking of trying that next time just for laughs.)
If you are looking for food or drink in the stadium, you'll be hitting up one of about four or five small kiosks serving up standard arena fare like nachos, Coors Light, or Blue Moon.
During our visit we found that most people were in line to buy shirts instead of beer (win!) but the line itself moved fairly slowly despite the fact that the registers were doubled up with employees (one taking orders and another fulfilling).
One of the reasons for this was that it seemed like a register would open, people would rush over to fill the new line, the staff would take a few orders, and walk away which left the next guest scratching their head on what is going on.
In any event, a 16 oz can of beer will run about $8.50, a bottle of water about $3.50, and soda about $4.50. But the limited options mean you should really plan on pre-gaming hard at Southern Tier, Burgatory, or even Tequila Cowboy before you come in as there are a number of better options at cheaper prices just a stone's throw away.
Then there are the toilet issues.
The toilets at Stage AE are primarily found in fixed trailers at the back of the venue (air conditioned!) as well as restrooms inside the building itself. In the back, three units sit side-by-side that were fairly accessible throughout the show.
But the reason for this is that during our particular show at least two of them were almost completely flooded from the time Flogging Molly took the stage just 45 minutes into the show.
I'm not sure what the makeup of the water was, but it most certainly wasn't beer. We held our noses as we trudged through the half inch of standing water to reach the toilets. (We later found out a woman's toilet was overflowing for at least an hour, and guess that it was due to people shoving paper towels into the toilet bowl as there was no toilet paper visibly available by the end of the first set.)
Thank God for waterproof hiking shoes, but the other patrons who were wearing sandals were in for a bit of a swim.
I'm not wanting to experience that one again.
At the end of the night we have to give Stage AE credit in that the size of the venue makes for a pretty quick exit, and no matter where you park your car odds are good you'll be out in a flash- as long as you are not departing the same time as one of the stadiums empties out (which, admittedly, is fairly rare at PNC Park short of extra innings or a rain delay).
Even though the venue is great for an intimate ambiance and a fairly decent sound for the bands, many of the arena's policies and staffing issues give us reason to pause about going back.
But as with most concerts, we end up going purely for the band first, hold our noses when we buy a ticket, and deal with the hassle all the same.
At the end of the day as far as venue options in Pittsburgh are concerned, what alternative do you have?
Stage AE is located at 400 N Shore Drive.
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