To start, Camden, NJ, which is where BB&T Pavilion is located, is not a place you want to hang out in. If you live outside the Philadelphia area and have heard of Camden, it’s probably because it’s consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in America. Poverty and crime run rampant in Camden, and despite some residents trying to improve and revitalize the area, little progress has been made. It’s one of those places that I feel uncomfortable driving through – both due to a concern for safety as well as disbelief at the poverty that exists so close to my own home.
But, Camden does have a developing waterfront area which includes the Adventure Aquarium, the Battleship New Jersey, Wiggins Park, and a few businesses. It is also home to the BB&T Pavilion, which is a 25,000-person capacity outdoor amphitheater just across the river from Philadelphia. It’s the area’s largest outdoor venue (The Mann Center is about half the size), so if a larger act is going to do an outdoor concert in Philly, this is where they will likely play.
Because the area is a bit of a challenge, it’s important to understand your options and how things work there – particularly if you are coming from out of town. Here are my tips and tricks for making your visit to Camden and the BB&T Pavilion as pleasant as possible.
Visiting from out of town? You will not find hotels in Camden (nor would you want to stay there). You basically have two options. You can look for hotels in Philadelphia, which is just across the river. Or, you can look for hotels in South Jersey. In New Jersey, check out hotels located in Cherry Hill. There are a few decent and well-known brand hotels, and it’s a short drive to Camden. In Philadelphia, look in Center City or on the waterfront (Penn’s Landing) area.
Tip #1: Check out the Holiday Inn Express at Penn’s Landing on the Philadelphia side of the river. Because it’s not in the Center City area, the rates are a little cheaper. It’s also close to the ferry (see “Getting to the Venue”, below) as well as all of the attractions, bars and restaurants on the Philadelphia side of the river. You also have very easy access by Uber or taxi to anything in Center City or Old City Philadelphia, including all of the restaurants, tourist attractions, etc.
Getting to the Venue
There are a couple of options for getting to BB&T, whether you are local or from out of town. Driving is probably the most common way to get to there. For those coming from the Philadelphia side, the easiest way to get to the venue is crossing over the Walt Whitman bridge into NJ, and then following the signs to the venue. Note that once you get off the highway and into Camden, the roads leading into the venue are not good. We were just there for a show, and the roads are full of potholes and just generally in disrepair, so be cautious. Also, as I mentioned at the start, the area is not safe – particularly at night – so be cognizant of your surroundings if you decide to take a short cut to avoid traffic. If you are driving and will need to park at the venue, note that parking will cost you between $30 and $40. At the concert we attended last weekend, it was $30 to park in the regular lots, and $40 to park in the VIP lot closest to the venue.
Tip #2: If you are driving to BB&T, give yourself plenty of time. Traffic can be a nightmare getting to the venue. We’ve been to a lot of shows at BB&T, and it seems like the traffic patterns that are set up and the lots they want you to park in, change at every show. Also, depending on where you park, you can have as much as a 15-minute walk from your car to the venue.
If you don’t want to drive, you have two other options depending on where you are coming from. If you are coming from the Philadelphia side, you may want to consider taking the ferry. The RiverLink Ferry operates from the beginning of May through the end of September. The Philly dock is located at 211 South Columbus Blvd (right next to the Independence Seaport Museum) and the Camden dock is located at 1 Riverside Drive (right next to the Adventure Aquarium and a 10-15 minute walk to the venue). A round trip ticket is $7, and the ferry runs extra service on nights where there is a concert. Be sure to check their page (http://www.delawareriverwaterfront.com/places/riverlink-ferry) for more information and exact schedules.
If you are on the New Jersey side, the River Line train is a great option. It has connections to NJ Transit and PATCO, and drops you right in front of the entrance to the venue. The cost to ride one-way is only $2.10 per person. Check their website (http://www.njtransit.com/ti/ti_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=LightRailTicketsTo&DP=0) for more information and exact schedules.
Tip #3: While both the ferry and River Line are great options to get to and from BB&T, please be aware that when the show is over, the lines to go back will be long! Both run extra ferries/trains on concert days, but you will still likely have to wait in line unless you leave the show early. The ferry will continue to run back and forth until everyone in line is taken back. Just pack your patience!
What to do Before the Show
Because of the location of BB&T, there are no restaurants or bars close by. If you want to have dinner before the show, I would suggest adding enough time into your schedule and going somewhere in Philadelphia. If you are coming from New Jersey, Cherry Hill or Collingswood have some good food options. There are a couple of nice restaurants (several of which are BYOB) on the main street in downtown Collingswood, and it’s a short 15-minute drive to get from there to the lots at the venue.
Food and drinks inside BB&T are VERY expensive (see “About the Venue”, below), so unless it’s absolutely necessary, I would avoid planning on having a full meal once you are inside.
Because there aren’t a lot of food options close by and the food is expensive inside, tailgating in the parking lots before the show is very popular in Camden. We tailgate before almost every show. Tailgating is permitted in most lots, but make sure you check with the venue to find out 1) what time the lots open, as it tends to change, and 2) what the rules are around tailgating, as those tend to change as well.
Tip #4: If you are tailgating with a group, I would suggest that you all caravan in together. Parking is a challenge and just because you have a spot saved in a lot, do not assume that the police or parking attendants will let your friend that comes later into that same lot. We have been parked and tailgating with plenty of spots around us, and our friends can’t join us because the traffic patterns are changed and they send people to other lots.
Tip #5: There are porta-potty’s in the lots, but they are often not very well maintained and used very heavily. I always bring my own toilet paper, as well as hand sanitizer. You’ll be glad you have it!
About the Venue
BB&T Pavilion has gone through a few name changes over the years. Originally known as the E-Centre, it became the Tweeter Center in 2001. In 2008, it became the Susquehanna Bank Center until 2015, when it changed again to its current name. The venue is operated by Live Nation, including the surrounding parking lots (hence, the $30 charge to park). In the winter, it can be fully enclosed and has a capacity of up to 7,000 people. In the summer, the capacity goes up to almost 25,500 with the extra seating on the lawn.
There is an indoor concourse area on each side of the venue, which contains restrooms, merchandise booths, and several stands selling food and drinks. Outside are additional restroom facilities, as well as more food and drink choices. There are also a couple of food and drink stands at various locations on the lawn.
As mentioned above, prices for food and drinks inside BB&T are extremely high. At the last show we went to, a 24 oz. craft beer was $13 and a “premium” craft beer was $16. They have added a few specialty food vendors (there is a Chickie & Pete’s stand where you can get crab fries) to supplement the standard “venue menu” of chicken fingers, burgers and hot dogs. But again, prices will be 2-3 times as high as you would pay outside of the venue.
Tip #6: Lines for the bathrooms and the food and drink stands are very long – especially the bathroom line for females. If you don’t mind missing a few minutes of a song, I recommend sneaking out while the performance is going on to avoid the lines. If you do go out to use the bathroom or get food, make sure you take your ticket with you, as they will make you show it to enter the seating area again.
For most “outdoor” shows, BB&T has a pit area up front that is general admission. I have seen them put temporary seats there for shows that are more of a “sit down” type of show. Note that the pit area is quite large and I’ve seen it get oversold for some shows. It can also be a mess as the night goes on – particularly if it’s hot and people have been drinking all day. If you are intent on being “on the rail” and are willing to wait in line to get that spot, go for it. Otherwise, you may be better off with a good seat.
Behind the pit area is the reserved seating. There are two sections – the 100’s and 200’s. Note that BB&T (and the seating) is very wide, so try to get seats in the center section if possible rather than in the side sections for a better view. All reserved seating is under the roof, so if the weather is bad you will be able to stay dry.
Tip #7: Because the rows are so wide, once the show starts and people stand up, it often feels like there are more people in your row than should be (which is very possible if you have good seats and someone sneaks into your row). It’s best to get seats on the aisle if you can, so you don’t have to feel claustrophobic towards the center. Just be prepared for people constantly passing in front of you as they go in and out of the aisle.
At the back of BB&T is the lawn. Note that the lawn is not covered, and can be a mess on a rainy day. The lawn is big and can also get pretty crowded for a sold out show. In order to get a prime spot on the lawn along the front, people get in as soon as doors open and reserve their space. You are permitted to bring in blankets and low back chairs. You can also rent chairs from the venue.
Tip #8: Some of this depends on the crowd, but I find that in general, the bathrooms at the venue are not well maintained. At the last show I attended, the outside bathroom I used was absolutely disgusting. Many stalls were not clean and were broken (no doors, no locks), toilets were clogged and overflowing, toilet paper was non-existent, sinks were clogged and overflowing, and the hand dryers barely worked. For the ladies, do yourself a favor and take napkins with you as emergency toilet paper and/or for paper towels to dry your hands.
In summary, the BB&T Pavilion is not my favorite venue. While the sound is fine and the seats are comfortable (there is a lot of space between your seat and the row in front of you), the venue has some major flaws and the prices on everything are outrageous. But, if you live in Philly and want to see an outdoor show close to home, you’ll likely have to attend a show here. So, make the best of it and enjoy the music.