Discover Pittsburgh's music scene

As any college student knows, going to school isn’t all about hitting the books day in and day out, especially when you’re in a cultural city like Pittsburgh, where it would be a shame for you not to go out and explore what the various neighborhoods have to offer.

One part of Pittsburgh that you can really get into, if you’re willing and knowledgeable, is the music scene. Sure, there’s the Consol Energy Center, which attracts some of the bigger names, but you’d be missing out if you passed over Pittsburgh’s smaller venues.

Pittsburgh is an intimate city, and, although it’s Pennsylvania’s second-largest, it’s got a cozy feel to it. The neighborhoods are pleasant, the people are friendly, and the restaurants and cafés parallel the small-town atmosphere. It’s not surprising, then, to realize that most of the concert venues are smaller and allow for personal viewing experiences.

Here’s a list of some local places that like to host traveling artists (and, occasionally, secret shows from Pittsburgh natives). Check these places out and you’ll be sure to see some worthwhile acts.

Stage AE
400 North Shore Dr. (North Shore)

Less than a year ago, this all-ages concert venue opened up next to Heinz Field. The big draw: The indoor venue, with a 2,400-person capacity, hosts events 12 months a year. And when the weather is nice enough, the outdoor amphitheater can house an audience of 5,500. In the fall of 2011, Stage AE will host college-friendly artists like Arctic Monkeys and Mac Miller, proving that although it’s the new kid in town as far as concert venues go, it can bring in some big names.

Mr. Small’s Theatre and Funhouse
400 Lincoln Ave. (Millvale)

Mr. Small’s might just be the perfect venue. It’s not meant to host big names, but there’s still an attractive number of folks who crowd the theater. Don’t let the small size scare you, though; while the place only has a capacity of 650, it never feels like you’re squished among fans. There are two full bars in the back of the room, where the older crowd stays and mingles, while younger fans can get as close to the stage as they want to. There’s really not a bad seat in the house; even if you get there late and are forced to stand in the back by the bar, you can easily see everything going on onstage.

Altar Bar
1620 Penn Ave. (Strip District)

As a whole, the Altar Bar is quite a beautiful building, although most people don’t go to admire its architecture. Inside, the venue’s three floors are attractive, but you’ll only be seeing the middle level, as the ones above and below it are for VIPs only. Visitors will definitely feel as if they are at a bar and not the usual concert setting, as the large iridescent bar and neon stairs keep you awake and energized. Be sure to check if the show you’re looking to go to is an all-ages concert or not; as the venue is a bar, most shows are restricted to the 21+ crowd.

Carnegie Music Hall
4400 Forbes Ave. (Oakland)

With a capacity of almost 2,000, this is one of Pittsburgh’s larger and definitely classier venues. The interior is exquisite; you feel like you should be wearing a tuxedo and sipping champagne when you step into the lobby. Floor seating is good, but you’re better off trying to get second-story balcony seats a bit to the left or right of the center. That way, you’re above half the audience, but still close to the stage.

Other favorites include:
Hard Rock Café, 230 W. Station Square Dr. (Station Square)
Club Café, 56 S. 12th St. (South Side)
Club Zoo, 1630 Smallman St. (Strip District)
The Smiling Moose, 1306 E. Carson St. (South Side)

A brief note of caution about attending a show at these venues: If you don’t go with someone who has a car, make sure you know where the closest bus stops are and when the buses are supposed to arrive. Just about all of these venues are not in walking distance of Carnegie Mellon’s main campus, and you don’t want to risk being late for your show.

Even if you’re not a die-hard fan, take a night off from your studies, check out a part of Pittsburgh where you can’t see the Cathedral of Learning around you, and hear some good music — all for a college-friendly price. Your overworked mind will thank you.