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The 2018 Best And Worst Concert Venues in Philadelphia!

Concert venues don’t define the live music experience, but they have a major impact on the experience. A good venue can make a concert experience even better, or turn it into a nightmare.

There are lots of factors that make or break a venue – from the parking situation to the sound system. Even the staff themselves can make or break your experience at a particular venue.

If you follow my blog, you know that I go to a lot of concerts. Last year my total ended up at 53. This year I will be around 75. Going to a lot of concerts means that I’ve also been to a lot of venues – particularly in the Philadelphia area.

Last year, I ranked the venues I visited into three categories – the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve done that again for you this year. Some of the venues from last year are off this year’s list because I didn’t get to a show there. And, there are some new venues this year that I’ve visited for the first time.  Check out last year’s list to see how this year compares.  

Same as last year, this list is based on my opinion only. I haven’t received any perks from any of the venues. Also same as last year, I’ve included a bonus tip or two when you visit each of the venues. This post is not meant to be a detailed description of the venue, so if you want to learn more or get more tips about a particular place, just enter the venue name in the search box on the top of the page.

So, keep reading to find out how I ranked the various venues around town. Let me know if you agree or disagree. I’d love to hear from you!

This content uses referral links. Read our Affiliate Disclosure statement for more info. Making purchases after having followed one of these links will benefit me but costs you nothing extra. Thanks for clicking!

OUTDOOR VENUES

TOP OF THE LIST (THE GOOD)

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts (Skyline Stage) – This is one of my favorite venues in the city.  The facility really contains two venues in one.  There is the larger amphitheater that has both reserved seats and a lawn.  Behind the main lawn, there is a second venue called the Skyline Stage that is all general admission.  This year, I only had the chance to see one show at The Mann and it was at the Skyline Stage.  But, the things I love about the facility –the staff, the food, the bathrooms – are consistent.

Tip #1: If you are going to see a show at the Skyline Stage and don’t care if you are right up front, take a blanket and just chill out on the lawn.  They have food trucks set up, so you can grab some food and have your own picnic while watching the show.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD (THE BAD)

Festival Pier –This venue is all general admission. They’ve tried to create the feeling that you are on the beach, by building a boardwalk along the back and putting sand down on the parking lot.  This year, it felt like they really needed to replenish the sand.  When you attend a show here that isn’t oversold, it’s not a bad venue.  But, I’ve been to shows where it’s been oversold and it’s miserable.  The other thing to be aware of is that the only bathroom facilities available are port-a-potties, which are all located on one side of the venue.  And, if you are there for a show during the day, be aware that there is almost no shade, so bring your sunscreen!

Festival Pier during a day time show
Festival Pier is intended to make you feel like you are hanging out at the beach.  Beware!  There is no shade!

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.

XFINITY Live! –While this isn’t necessarily known as a concert venue, I’ve seen a couple of shows here – typically all-day music festivals sponsored by a local radio station.  XFINITY Live! is an entertainment venue located on the grounds of Philadelphia’s sports complex.  The nice thing about seeing a show here, is that it’s very spacious so you never feel crowded.  However, the sound isn’t great when they have the larger stage set up in the parking lot area.

Tip #3: If you can, stand directly back from the stage (even if you are further back) for the best sound.  There is a definite decrease in sound quality if you stand on the sides.

DON’T GO UNLESS YOU HAVE TO (THE UGLY)

BB&T Pavilion(Camden, NJ) – This is a repeat from last year’s list.  While I did notice a few improvements this year (the bathroom situation has improved, and we discovered a privately-owned parking lot that we now use exclusively), the overall experience at the venue still leaves a lot to be desired.  Lines are still long.  Concessions are still ridiculously priced.  The lawn can be a nightmare.  But, it’s the biggest outdoor venue in the Philly area, so we are stuck with it.

Tip #4:  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.

SMALL VENUES

TOP OF THE LIST (THE GOOD)

World Café Live -This continues to be one of my favorite venues in the city.  The venue is small, the staff is friendly,and it’s well maintained.  There is a very small restaurant/performance area upstairs and a larger room downstairs.  They have a great food menu,so consider going early and having dinner there before the show.

World Cafe Live from the outside
World Cafe Live is one of the best small music venues in the city.

Tip #5:  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.

First Unitarian Church– Yes, we saw a concert inside a church sanctuary.  The facility has two venues – the church sanctuary and the basement.  I’ve never attended a show in the basement, but I’ve heard stories from friends that grew up in the area and saw some amazing shows in that room.  As for the sanctuary, the acoustics are amazing and put this venue on the top of my list.  Only downside – pews are basically hard wooden benches and not comfortable for sitting for a 2-hour concert.

Tip #6:  Another perk of this venue is that it’s BYOB.  Bring your own beer or wine and enjoy during the show!

The Foundry – This is the smaller upstairs room at The Fillmore. It’s an intimate room that lets you really get up close and personal with the performer.  The bathrooms are clean and because it’s so small, you never have to wait in line for drinks.

Tip #7:  The only downside to this room is the large pole located on one side of the floor.  We got stuck behind it during a show and had to play the “bob and weave” game to be able to have a good view.

The Ardmore Music Hall– This is a small room in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Because of the size, there isn’t a bad spot in the house.  It’s also fairly easy to meet the artists after the show.

Meeting an artist after the show.
We’ve gotten a chance to meet a few of the artists after the show at Ardmore Music Hall.

Tip #8: 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 early entry into the venue as well.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD (THE BAD)

Steel City Coffeehouse– I really like this venue.  The only reason it isn’t ranked as “good”, is because they really jam the people in for a show.  The show I attended was sold-out, so maybe my experience was an exception to the rule.  This venue is the ultimate “intimate”experience. 

Selfie with Rachael Price.
We got a chance to meet Rachael Price from Lake Street Dive after her solo show at Steel City Coffehouse.

Tip #9:  Be sure to get there early if you want to order food.  They stop serving once the show starts.

The Queen – This venue was previously the sister venue to World Café Live.  Located in Wilmington, DE, the venue was purchased by Live Nation a little over a year ago.  The facility itself would dictate ranking this place as “good”.  I love the room.  The sound is great and there isn’t a bad view.  But now that Live Nation has taken over, there have been some changes made that brings the venue down a bit on my list.  Still a great place to see as show, but I miss the independent owners.

Me in the band's selfie at The Queen.
I even made it in the band’s selfie at one of the shows I saw at The Queen this year!

Tip #10:  It’s usually pretty easy to get right up to the stage for most shows.  We like to stand on the left side so that we can easily step away and get to the bar or the bathrooms.

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.  There is one bar all the way in the back of the room.  Bathrooms are also all the way in the back and not always well-maintained.  The advantage of this venue is that the shows are usually very reasonably priced.

Tip #11: If you hang out after the show, you almost always get a chance to meet the artists.  The merch table is just a folding table near the staircase, and most artists come out after the show to sign autographs and take pictures at the table.

DON’T GO UNLESS YOU HAVE TO (THE UGLY)

The Fire – I first went to this venue several years ago to see Red Wanting Blue.  After that experience, I swore I would never go again.  But, a good friend of ours has a daughter who is the lead singer in a band, and her band played here earlier this year.  So, we sucked it up and went out to support her.  Unfortunately, nothing has improved.  This is really a dive bar that tries to be a music venue. 

Tip #12:  I have no tips other than avoid this place if you can!

MEDIUM SIZED INDOOR VENUES

TOP OF THE LIST (THE GOOD)

The Fillmore –This remains one of my favorite venues in Philadelphia.  The sound system is amazing.  The stage is large.  The room is beautiful.  And most importantly, the bathrooms are clean and plentiful!

The outside of the The Fillmore.
The Fillmore is one of my favorite venues!

Tip #13:  Parking near the venue is easy.  There are two lots located near the venue.  The cost to park is typically $10-15.  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.  Just be sure to read the signs to make sure you aren’t parking illegally.

Union Transfer –This is another great venue in the city. The room is set up well and the sound is fantastic.  They aren’t affiliated with Live Nation, so they don’t get as many big name acts, but seeing lesser known bands is part of the fun!

Tip #14:  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.

The Block at Harrah’s– I just went to this venue for the first time in October to see the Violent Femmes.  I was pleasantly surprised!  The room is new, there are multiple bars located throughout, and the sound is good. The downside is that there are very few shows (and almost no national acts) that come here, you have to walk through the whole casino to get to the room (which can be depressing), and it’s located in Chester (which is not a great area). 

Tip #15:  If you want to grab some dinner before the show inside the casino, Guy Fieri’s is a good option.  Make sure to check for a Groupon.  There is almost always one available.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD(THE BAD)

TLA – This venue is one of the most iconic in the area. But, it’s old and really needs some TLC. The bathrooms need some major upgrading. The floor seems to always be sticky. When a show is sold out, it gets extremely crowded (and hot). 

Tip #16:  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 also has easy access to the bathrooms, lobby and bar.

Tower Theater –The Tower Theater is located in Upper Darby. Typically, the majority of the venue is seated, although we were recently there for a show where there was a large GA pit.  The seats are narrow and uncomfortable, so if you have a seated ticket, be aware.

Tip #17: The neighborhood right around the venue is a bit run down, so there aren’t a lot of food choices nearby. Pica’s is located down West Chester Pike and is one of the closest restaurants where you can get a sit-down meal.  Be sure to go early or make a reservation though, as it can be hard to get in before a show.

DON’T GO UNLESS YOU HAVE TO (THE UGLY)

The Electric Factory (now The Franklin Music Hall) – I really debated over this one.  I attended shows at this venue for the first time this year.  For my first experience,I was actually fairly impressed.  I thought the set up was neat and everything was pretty decent.  My second experience was not as good.  It was hot and the cooling system appeared to be fans that were blowing directly on you. The sound is also not great.  The venue was recently bought by new owners. I haven’t been there since the new ownership took over, so we’ll see what happens going forward.

The old sign at The Electric Factory.
The Electric Factory is now called The Franklin Music Hall. 

Tip #18:  There are a couple of good breweries within walking distance if you want a beer and some food before the show.  Roy Pitz Brewing Company is one of my favorites. 

So, there you have it! Agree or disagree?  Let me know.

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

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