Stage AE defies the standard notions of Pittsburgh's concert image
For the past decade, we were told, in relation to the bookings at the amphitheater in Burgettstown, that Pittsburgh is a great market for country and classic rock.
Some people celebrated, others groaned.
- MAY: Rob Zombie/Megadeth (May 16), The Avett Brothers (May 20), Primus/Gogol Bordello/Dead Kenny G's (May 22), Gavin DeGraw/Colbie Caillat (May 29).
- JUNE: Tedeschi Trucks Band (June 1), Joe Walsh (June 2), Danzig Legacy (June 5), Girl Talk (June 9), Childish Gambino (June 18), Korn (June 19), Modest Mouse (June 20), The Clarks (June 23).
- JULY: Sublime With Rome/Cypress Hill/Pepper (July 11), Death Cab for Cutie/Andrew Bird (July 13), Feist (July 14), Heart (July 26), O.A.R. (July 27), George Thorogood/Delbert McClinton (July 31).
- AUGUST: 311/Slightly Stoopid/The Aggrolites (Aug. 7), Boston (Aug. 10), Trespass America Festival with Five Finger Death Punch, more (Aug. 14), My Morning Jacket/Band Of Horses (Aug. 21).
- SEPTEMBER: Hall & Oates (Sept. 5).
- Tickets: 1-800-745-3000.
Scott Stienecker, who books Stage AE as the head of the Columbus, Ohio-based PromoWest Productions, has a different take. He thinks Pittsburgh rocks -- in a more youthful manner. And that has been a big part of his approach at the North Shore venue, which launched its outdoors season last weekend with Marilyn Manson and a sold-out Rise Against show.
Last summer, the polished and manicured Stage AE moved in, with direct competition across the river from the Station Square amphitheater. It planned to do 30 outdoor shows and ended up doing 41 (including some special events). The Station Square venue, which did its normal 20 shows last year, has been dismantled this summer to make way for a new Riverhounds soccer stadium.
Stage AE expects to top 40 once again, with a variety of styles. Of the 26 shows announced (including the Day-Glo festival in April), here is roughly how it breaks down:
• 9 alternative (including Death Cab for Cutie, Avett Brothers, Feist).
• 5 classic rock (Heart, Boston, etc.).
• 5 metal.
• 2 jam rock (OAR, Tedeschi Trucks).
• 1 pop (Gavin DeGraw).
• 1 rap (Childish Gambino), 2 electronic (Girl Talk, Dayglo), 1 local (Clarks).
• 0 country (so far).
More announcements are on the way. In the meantime, Mr. Stienecker offered his candid impressions on the season to come and the Pittsburgh market in general.
Are there any changes to the venue or how you're running it this year -- or did you get it right the first time?
We made a few modifications. We have a Coors Light deck that is right behind the corporate boxes. Coors will have it on 12 events. I think we're going to do 43 shows. On all the other shows, people can either purchase it, individuals can buy it, or we'll open it up. And it holds 50 people. On the far side, on the north side, Aramark built out a concession area. So, a few changes, but really, operationally, we felt good about the first year.
What did you learn from last year that factored how you booked this year?
I think the type shows we were going after -- those college-oriented, young professional-type shows -- we didn't know how strongly they would go over in Pittsburgh, and they went over extremely well. So, the Death Cab for Cuties and the My Morning Jackets, those kind of acts, we were pleasantly surprised, because we were told by so many people, "Well you're gonna do well with country and classic rock over here," and that's fine, but we mainly do what's happening with college and young professionals, that's kind of our niche. And it worked.
I think the old convention was that summer was classic rock season, but when you look at your schedule, it doesn't look like that.
We're doing some classic rock. We're doing the Heart show, Boston, Joe Walsh, George Thorogood, Hall and Oates, so we're nailing the classic rock, but we're not predominantly classic rock.
So, you're looking for variety, so that you're not hitting the same fan base every time.
Correct. Variety is key. The biggest key is what's touring, of course. But then we try to throw a jazz show in there. We try to get a couple country shows in there. We try to make it as diversified as we can.
This year you do not have competition on the other side of the river. How has that affected your booking?
Hasn't. I don't think I really noticed that much. Last year, they grabbed that Wiz Khalifa show that we were after, but other than that, they did stuff we generally wouldn't have tackled, like Big and Rich, REO Speedwagon, Chicago. Elvis Costello and Wiz were two shows we went after.
Were you disappointed to see Wiz and Mac Miller [two artists that have played AE] booked out in Burgettstown this summer?
The agent told us they were going to do something together. Of course, we would have loved to do something with them separately, but we knew that was coming down the path.
Last year, one of the few complaints I heard about the venue was the lack of seating for a show like the Monkees. How are you adjusting?
I know on Hall and Oates, we seated the orchestra pit. Same for Joe Walsh, Thorogood and Tedeschi Trucks. A few of them, like Heart and Boston, we left open, because we knew they would be big enough where we needed the capacity.
How do you see the present and future for these electronic shows?
Our Girl Talk show is going to sell out. Our Pretty Lights show will sell out. But I think it's maybe being over-saturated. I think prices are higher than they should be. I know Avicii isn't doing well at Consol. Our Afrojack show is not doing that well. It was such the thing this past year that you either had to jump on the bandwagon or you were lost. We jumped on it with Bassnectars of the world and Pretty Lights, and I think it's started to slow down. We'll continue to do them. Like Tiesto, we passed on. The ones where the guarantees are driving the ticket prices up so high, we're just going to walk away from. Bassnectar will come in the fall, and Pretty Lights will come in the fall. We'll still be able to do the 2,300 indoor with no problem.
Are there other notable shows you passed on?
Yeah, we do our research, and if Sheryl Crow or whatever is asking what we think is too much money for a market, yeah, we'll pass.
There are a few bands that never play here, namely Radiohead and Arcade Fire. Any insight into why?
Radiohead doesn't tour a lot. They do those festivals for huge money. And when they do tour, they only do major markets or certain markets. So, Radiohead is a long shot, and that will probably be Consol or the big amphitheater. But Arcade Fire we had a hold on last summer and it didn't materialize. So, I'm glad you brought that up. I'll call [the agent] and see what they're up to. They're not touring, I don't believe, this year, but that's good to know that's one you'd like to see, because maybe next summer we'll get them here.
So, is Cleveland a major market and Pittsburgh isn't?
No. When they tour, they'll look at what cities they want to play. There are reasons why you play different markets. Some cities because the record hasn't done well in. Or some cities because the record's done extremely well in. You never know management's decision on what markets and why. So, yeah, Radiohead needs to play Pittsburgh.
Do you actually look at record sales before booking?
Yep. Part of the research we do is what kind of records they've sold in the market, and you've got to be careful because your pop artists will have sold many, many records, maybe, but people don't necessarily go to see that artist live. It's not really a live-type show. So you can't just base it on CD sales. You gotta really base it on Pollstar magazine ticket sales -- which acts sell ticket sales.
Yeah, there's nothing on your list that's really Top 40, except maybe .fun, and that's an indoor show.
Yeah. We've gotten hurt in the past where you want to jump on one of those Top 40-type acts and they're awesome on radio, and they don't translate into ticket sales. The real big pop plays the stadium and big venues, and after that, you've got to be careful with pop.
You sold out .fun indoors. Why not move that outside?
I know ... We've tried. Artists want to create hype, and sometimes they want to do underplays. But as hot as they are right now, they just want to say, "Cool, we sold out, and hang tight." That usually means they're building up for something in the near future.
Overall, when you look at summer, what do you think of the talent?
Very, very strong summer this year. We had an extremely strong summer last year. I think this summer will beat last year. So far everything is selling very well.
First Published May 10, 2012 12:00 am