Last Updated on August 3, 2022 by Jeremy
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Pittsburgh's outdoor amphitheater, The Pavilion at Star Lake (formerly S&T Bank Music Park, KeyBank Pavilion, First Niagara, and Star Lake before that), is the preferred venue for many of the world's best bands and musicians as they make their touring stop in Pittsburgh.
But this pavilion, located about 45 minutes west of downtown Pittsburgh, has had some notoriety about it throughout the years as accessing the arena is quite difficult with its one and only road in and out. But since many of our favorite bands play there, we've sucked it up several times over the years to see performances with vastly different experiences.
As with everything, this review is not about the performance, but rather is about the arena itself. So, what did we think of Star Lake and what can you do to have the best experience when visiting? Read on!
Seating at Star Lake
Seating follows a fairly standard format. There is the pit, with standing room only closest to the stage. The seating area, which is mostly covered (you'll be standing during the show anyway). Then the lawn, which is an open grassy area that is general admission and a free-for-all if you want to get the best spot (you'll be standing here too).
During our recent visit we purchased seats towards the back of the seating area, and found that generally the arrangement at Star Lake is quite good overall. The leg room is fairly generous, however the seats are not staggered such that you will probably be directly behind the person in front of you. Throw in the fact that the seats are not at any appreciable grade and those who are on the shorter end may have trouble seeing.
Getting past this, the seats themselves were pretty good as a means to get a closer view of the stage with some minor comforts over the lawn.
Our show had the misfortune of having a thunderstorm set to roll through, so we were quite worried about rain leading up to the performance. Thankfully the rain missed us at the last second, which was good because our row BB seats were completely exposed to the elements by just a few rows.
If you are worried about the possibility of rain at the rain-or-shine performances, we would recommend getting seats in row X or closer as these appear to be under the overhang in all sections. (Although to be absolutely safe, we'd recommend rows U or V to account for wind). A couple of rows would really make all the difference in the event of a downpour and is something you don't see on the seating chart!
Parking at Star Lake
If there is one thing you've ever heard about Star Lake (or KeyBank, or S&T Bank Music Pavilion, or whatever flavor of the day name it has), it is likely that the parking situation is, to put it bluntly, a catastrophe.
Stories of multi-hour waits to get in (especially for tailgating heavy events like Jimmy Buffett) and hour-long waits to get out are common, as are stories of people who missed a prized opening act entirely because of being stuck in traffic.
The reason for this is that there is only one entrance and exit and the 20,000+ strong traffic has to enter through this one choke point. To make matters worse, the parking wraps around the venue like a giant letter “C”, with the closer spots to the gate being paid Premium Parking (which is paved) and the further spots being free gravel / grass parking only. The deeper you have to go, the longer your wait will be upon entry and exit.
In the past, we have booked both premium parking and early admission tailgating to see if it is worth it. (Note: Prices are significantly more expensive than just a few years ago- VIP parking is now $100+ for some shows and tailgate parking can be $25-$40 or more depending on when you buy your ticket relative to the show date.)
For VIP parking, we arrived for our concert a little before 5:45pm and were off the highway and in our parking spot through a dedicated entry lane in three minutes. Yes, you read that right. Three minutes. Had we been ten minutes later we probably would've had a fair line as the traffic picked up right around this time and did not seem to get any better until the start of the show. As such, arriving early really helped us out on this one (even though Premium Parking will cut the entry time down quite a bit for those who do get stuck in the entry traffic- the dedicated entry lane does help).
Leaving the arena was just as simple, and we booked it out as soon as the encore ended. Oddly enough, the Premium Parking lot was pretty much devoid of attendees leaving despite the show being over, and we popped into a stand-still exit lane with relative ease (sadly, there is no dedicated exit lane for premium parking).
Moving at a snail's pace was not pleasant, but considering we were right by the exit we were out of the lot and on the highway within 15 minutes. I can only imagine what it would've been like had we parked on the opposite side of the arena. (We later spoke to a few readers who were there and did not leave the lot until midnight- we were already at home in downtown Pittsburgh and in bed.)
For early tailgate parking (for Jimmy Buffett, mind you), we arrived as soon as the gates opened at 1 pm and it took us about 30 minutes to get in- possibly because the attendants were slow to open the gates. We were parked much further back in the gravel, and despite leaving during the final encore song we got out of the lot in about 25 minutes.
For these options, it really comes down to how much Star Lake is charging. When we paid $30 for VIP and $30 for early tailgating, we thought it was worth it. When we've seen prices for $100+, honestly we'd rather just leave a song or two early to beat the traffic at that point- it is simply not worth that much of a premium.
Other Practical Notes for the Star Lake
Getting beyond the traffic issue, what about the food and drinks at the arena?
Star Lake does have several food options available; however, most are what you would expect for generic arena food to be. A notable standout during our visit in 2022 was Philadelphia-based Chickie's & Pete's and Packed Bowls by Wiz Khalifa, which, suffice it to say, means the arena has a long way to go before getting anything remotely exciting. (Where are the Pittsburgh restaurants?!)
Their beer game is much better, but at upwards of $13.75 for a domestic draft (24/25 ounces) and $17 for a craft draft (19.2-25 oz), you may be better suited arriving early and tailgating with a few of your favorite beers to avoid the high prices. (Not to mention, cans of wine ran about $12, seltzer was $16, and cocktails easily hit $22- ouch!)
You're probably going to arrive early anyway to beat the traffic, so why not enjoy the extra time with good food and your favorite beer? A win all around.
In fact, doing all this in the parking lot is especially worth it as they have a rather strict security policy, that was further strengthened in 2017 after a few arena bombings in Europe (and further strengthened again in 2018 for no apparent reason).
During a 2018 concert no purses or bags of 4″ were allowed in, despite no previous warning, which prompted many attendees to have to run back to their cars, and one girl who even hid her purse under a traffic cone only to fortuitously find it still there after the show was over. (Check current bag rules here as things always change faster than we can update.)
This is fine in most cases; however, none of it was well published on the amphitheater's website, sent via email to attendees, or even mentioned at the gate via a well placed sign. So if you plan on bringing in a bag of food based on their previously lax policy, well, I wouldn't plan on that being an amenity any longer. Add in a vigorous pat down to top it all off (which thankfully did not happen in 2022- so maybe that was a one-off issue), and you have the makings of a lot of pissed off guests right at the start of the show if you don't plan accordingly.
Know this going in, and that any policy changes will likely not be relayed to you until you are at the gate, and you may not be as angry.
Star Lake may have many shortcomings, but if they are the only thing stopping you from deciding to buy a ticket to your favorite performer (especially one that comes around only once every four or five years like Mumford and Sons), we really have to think you should plan to suck it up, arrive quite early, pre-game a bit harder in the parking lot, plan for going in quite early to pass security, and enjoy the show.
The alternative of not going is simply not as fun.
Star Lake is located at 665 Pennsylvania 18 in Burgetstown, PA.