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Philadelphia Area Concert Venues – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!

There are lots of concert venues in Philadelphia, but which are the best?

I go to a lot of concerts. In fact, some people would call me a live music junkie.  Read more about my “addiction” here.

Confessions of a Concert Addict! Are You a Live Music Junkie Too?

The most important aspect of a concert, of course, is the music. But, the venue can play a bigger part in your concert experience than you realize. How is the sound? What types of amenities does the venue have? How expensive is it to park?

We are very lucky to have a lot of different concert venues in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. I have my favorites, and I’m sure a lot of you do too.  This list is based on my opinion only.  I have not received any perks from any of these venues.

Here’s my list of the good, the bad and the ugly, along with a tip or two when you visit those venues. In my opinion, you can’t compare a large outdoor venue to a small indoor venue, so I’ve broken them into categories as well.  I’ve only included a brief snippet on each venue.  If you want more information on a particular venue, follow the link to the article I’ve written on the venue previously, or go to my website and enter the venue name in the search box.

This content uses referral links.  Read our Affiliate Disclosure statement for more info.

OUTDOOR VENUES

Top of the List (The Good)

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts – This is one of my favorite venues in the city. The Mann Center has a capacity of 14,000 people. Of that, 4,500 seats are under cover. The rest are either seats in the back beyond the roof, or the lawn. There are several reasons why I love The Mann. First is the staff. They are very friendly and actually go out of their way to help – whether it’s ushers, security, or even the bathroom attendants. The venue is also very well maintained. Finally, they do a good job of moving people around in the venue. Lines aren’t ever too long for anything

Tip #1: The balcony area can be very warm (I’d describe it more as hot!) during hot summer weather. The hot air rises and gets trapped under the roof, and there is very little air circulation. So, dress cool if you have balcony seats.

The Mann Center – Philadelphia, PA

Middle of the Road (The Bad)

Festival Pier – This venue is all general admission. They’ve tried to create a feeling that you are on a beach, by building a boardwalk along the back and putting sand down on the parking lot. This venue is nice for a Sunday afternoon show that isn’t too crowded. You can bring your chair and relax, if you don’t mind being in the back. However, we have been to this venue when they have oversold it, and it was a terrible experience. People were shoulder to shoulder. It was impossible to move around. Getting to the bathroom was a huge challenge, and you couldn’t even get up to a food or drink vendor because there were too many people. The other thing to be aware of is that there is almost no shade at the venue. If you are there for a day show, bring sunscreen!

A picture of people sitting on chairs and on their blankets, watching a show at Festival Pier.
Festival Pier is a nice place to see a show on a sunny afternoon. You can bring your lawn chair or a blanket and sit out on the sand.

Tip #2: Bring an empty water bottle to the show to save some money. The venue has water filling stations. Note, however, that the water is running through a hose (it is filtered), so on a hot day the water will be warm.

Festival Pier – Philadelphia, PA

Don’t Go Unless You Have To (The Ugly)

BB&T Pavilion (Camden, NJ) – I have to admit that if I never had to go to this venue again, I would be a happy camper. Unfortunately, this is the biggest outdoor venue in the area, so all of the big summer tours come here. Putting aside the location, which they clearly can’t do anything about, this venue has major problems. It’s not well-maintained. Going to the bathroom is an adventure – there may be no stall door, no toilet paper, some sort of liquid all over the floors. Lines are long for everything. Concessions are extremely expensive. On top of that, parking is ridiculous. We have been forced to park in some gravel lot that was a good 20-30 minute walk to the venue, and they charged us $30.

Tip #3: 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. 

BB&T Pavilion – Camden, NJ

SMALL VENUES

Top of the List (The Good)

World Café Live – This is a great venue in any category. I think it’s even better because it is so small. The venue contains a very small restaurant/performance area upstairs, and a larger room downstairs. Not only is this a great place for live music, but they have an amazing food menu as well. We recently enjoyed dinner here before a show, and the food and service were fantastic.

A picture of me at dinner at World Cafe Live.
Enjoying dinner on the mezzanine level of World Café Live before a show!

The venue is well maintained, the staff is friendly, and they bring in some high quality (although lesser known performers). It’s one of Philadelphia’s gems as far as live music goes.

Tip #4: If you want to avoid ticket fees, buy your tickets during World Café Live’s “happy hour”. Between 5 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, go to the box office and get your tickets with no fees. Cash only and tickets for the mezzanine area are excluded.

 

The Foundry – This is the smaller upstairs room at The Fillmore. This is a tiny room that lets you really get up close and personal with the performer. The venue has a really nice bar, as well as seating around the perimeter. The bathrooms are clean. Because it is small, you don’t have to wait in line for drinks, or push through the crowd to get around.

Tip #5: Parking near the venue is easy. There are two lots located near the venue. The cost to park is typically $10. If your timing is good and you don’t mind walking a little further, you can typically find parking on Frankford Avenue or the surrounding neighborhood streets. Most of it is free, but be sure to read the signs to make sure you aren’t parked illegally. Also, be aware that the trolley comes down Frankford Avenue. I’ve seen people that haven’t parked close enough to the curb, and the trolley can’t get through. They will have your car towed if you are blocking the trolley route. 

 

The Ardmore Music Hall – This is a tiny room in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  It’s so small, that there isn’t a bad spot in the house.  They have a nice bar area and they also serve food.  If you want to be close to the stage, it’s easy to do.  It’s also pretty easy to meet the artists after the show.

A selfie of me, my husband and Junior Marvin after the show.
My husband and I got to meet Junior Marvin of The Wailers after a recent show at The Ardmore Music Hall.

Tip #6: The venue has a couple different show arrangements – full general admission, full seated, partial seated, etc. Make sure to understand the seating arrangement for the show you are going to, and buy your tickets accordingly.  If you have reserved seating tickets, you get earlier entry into the venue as well.

 

Middle of the Road (The Bad)

MilkBoy – This is a bar/restaurant downstairs, and a small music venue upstairs. The room is very narrow and deep. The stage is also small and not well elevated, so if you are short and don’t get close to the front, it can be hard to see. There is one bar all the way in the back of the room. Bathrooms are also all the way in the back, and on the occasions I’ve been there, not always well-maintained. The advantage of this venue is that the shows are usually very reasonably priced, and it’s very laid back.

Tip #7: MilkBoy is open crazy hours. Because the venue is directly across the street from a large hospital, they open at 7 a.m. weekday and serve a full food and drink menu to cater to the “3rd shifters”. They are also open late night to grab a snack or drink after the show.

 

Coda – This is a lesser known venue in the area. It’s technically a “members only club”, but they host concerts open to the public from time to time. The venue is located in the busy Rittenhouse area of the city, so parking can be a big challenge. It’s also a little sketchy walking in and going upstairs to the venue. The venue itself is fine. Drinks are cheap. The sound system is adequate.

Tip #8: There are some couches/bench seating located around the perimeter of the room. These are typically first come first served, so if you get to the show early you can grab one of these seats.

 

Don’t Go Unless You Have To (The Ugly) 

The Nail – Honestly, I have nothing good to say about this venue. Located in Ardmore, PA, it can’t even pass for a bad neighborhood bar. The place seems dirty, the staff seems uninterested, the stage looks like it’s sloping downhill. I’m not sure why the owners think they can promote this place as a music venue. Avoid it if you can.

 

Honorable Mention

The Queen – I haven’t been to The Queen since it’s been re-opened as a Live Nation venue (it was previously owned by the same people who own World Café Live). It’s a beautiful room, but I will reserve judgment until I’m able to go under the new ownership.

 

MEDIUM INDOOR VENUES

Top of the List (The Good)

The Fillmore – This is one of my favorite venues in Philadelphia. The sound system is amazing. The stage is large for the size of the venue. The room is beautiful. The whole place is clean and well maintained.  I’ve always had a great experience here.

A picture of the outside of The Fillmore.
The Fillmore is one of my favorite venues in the area.

Tip #9: Because the venue is so small, there really isn’t a bad spot in the room. I usually hang out in the back next to the sound board. That keeps me out of the crowd. From there, I also have good access to the bar and to the bathrooms.

 

Union Transfer – This is another great venue in the city that has opened over the last few years.  I put it one rung below The Fillmore, because it could use a little updating in the bathrooms.  However, the room is set up well and the sound is great.

A picture of the outside of Union Transfer.
Union Transfer is in another old building in Philadelphia that has been reconfigured to be a great music venue.

Tip #10:  If you get to the venue early enough, you can almost always find a spot on Spring Garden Street right in front of the venue. You don’t have to pay the meters after 6:30 p.m. If you don’t find a spot on Spring Garden, there is plenty of additional street parking near the venue.

 

Keswick Theater – This is a great seated venue in the northeast suburbs of Philadelphia.  Tickets are reasonable.  The theater is small, so there are no bad seats.  It’s also a nice neighborhood with plenty of restaurant choices for dinner before the show.

 

Middle of the Road (The Bad)

TLA – I will probably take some heat for the next two, as they are venues that are institutions in the area.  It’s not that either are bad, they just aren’t as good as some of the others.  The TLA (or Theater of the Living Arts) is located on South Street.  It’s all general admission.  The downside of the venue is that for a sold out show, it gets extremely crowded.  It’s also old, and the facilities (like the bathrooms) need some major upgrading.

A picture of the marquee on the TLA.
The famous marquee for the TLA on South Street.

Tip #11: If I don’t care about being upfront for the show, I find that a good place to stand is on the ramp leading onto the main floor. You are right next to the sound board (which is a great spot if you are looking to snag a set list). It’s accessible to the bathrooms, lobby, and bar. It’s also typically less crowded.

 

Tower Theater – The Tower Theater is located in Upper Darby, PA.  While the views are good from almost anywhere, the seats are narrow and uncomfortable.  The aisles are very narrow as well, so if you are a tall person, it’s a challenge.  The neighborhood around the venue is a bit run down, so finding a nice place for dinner can be tough.

A picture of the outside of the Tower Theater showing the famous radio tower.
The iconic “tower” on the Tower Theater.

LARGE VENUES

Top of the List (The Good)

Wells Fargo Center – The home of Philadelphia’s indoor sports teams (the 76ers, Flyers, and Soul), the venue also hosts concerts.  For a large arena, the sound here is pretty decent.  As with any arena, there are some bad views, so beware of where you are purchasing our tickets.

View of the stage from up high and on the side at the Wells Fargo Center.
We were in the upper level on the side of the stage for the Roger Waters’ show at the Wells Fargo Center. It made it tough to see the video screen.

 

Middle of the Road (The Bad)

Lincoln Financial Field – Home to the Philadelphia Eagles, this football stadium also hosts some large shows.  The sound is not great and the views are tough depending where you are.  It’s also hard to get in the venue.  Lines for getting through security can be very long.

A view of the stage from way up high at the Linc.
We were WAY up high for the U2 show this past summer at The Linc. Not the best view!

 

Don’t Go Unless You Have To (The Ugly)

Citizen’s Bank Park – I’ve only been to one show at Citizen’s Bank Park, and that was the Billy Joel/Elton John concert several years ago. In my opinion, baseball stadiums are just not set up for concerts. Unless you are right up front, the views are horrible. The sound was even worse. It just seemed to bounce around the stadium, and everything had an echo.

Tips #12:  Before you check out one of these venues for your next concert, be sure to take your earplugs to protect your hearing.  I use Vibes.  Click here to get your own pair of Vibes.

So there you have it!  Disagree or agree?  Let me know!

Have questions or comments about any of these venues??  Comment below or e-mail me at tips2livebywriter@gmail.com. 

Did you like what you read? Want to keep up on live music, food, drink, and travel? Make sure you follow us on social media. Click on the links at the top of the homepage of our website, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates on where we are, what we are drinking, and what music we are listening to!

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