Last Updated on January 15, 2021 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. For the Pittsburgh stop of Mumford and Sons' 2017 tour, we decided to get past our worries, buy a ticket for the weeknight concert anyway, and endure whatever we had to do to enjoy the music.
As with everything, this review is not about the performance (Mumford and Sons put on one of the best shows I've ever seen), 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.
During our most recent concert, we decided to try the Premium Parking, a $30+ fee, to see if it is worth it.
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.)
Overall, for $30 and saving a few hours of time, I think the price is worth it. But if the fee (which varies from concert to concert) is a bit much for you to justify saving an hour or so, the free parking and potential headache may do just fine.
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 few notable standouts during our visit in 2017 were a Guy Fieri joint as well as the Philadelphia based Chickie's & Pete's, 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, with many local Pittsburgh breweries being available. But at upwards of $16 a draft you may be better suited arriving early and tailgating with a few of your favorite beers to avoid the high prices.
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 our 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.
This is fine in most cases; however, none of it was 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 planned 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, 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.
In 2018 we returned for a Jimmy Buffett concert and were once again not made aware of new security rules that were seemingly implemented the day before.
For this particular concert people were allowed to take in mini chairs and blankets for lawn (because of course flexible security policies at any given show makes complete sense), but the additional security screenings that were not relayed caused a 1,000+ person line at the gate and made many people miss most of the concert altogether. (We somehow got in through a side lane that was taking in people with a smaller line, otherwise we would've been in this boat as well.)
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.