Okay, not really, but kinda. I just figured that sensational headline would draw you in. I'm not one to make a stink out of nothing, but I feel compelled to share this interaction, mostly as a public complaint so yinz are aware of it, since I doubt this will actually make them change anything, so the least I can do is keep anyone else from experiencing this. Here's the story:
This past weekend was the Pittsburgh Marathon. The event organizers scheduled the 1st annual Kick-off Concert for Friday May 13, and I was excited to learn that one of my favorite Pittsburgh bands, Donora would be playing a FREE show! It was at Stage AE at the outdoor stage. I had never been to this venue before, let alone the outdoor stage, so I didn't quite know what to expect, but I saw some other people posting about it in the days beforehand, including Andy at the City Paper and Scott at the Post-Gazette. There was also a show at Club Cafe that evening that I wanted to see (Big Snow Big Thaw, what what?) so I planned on catching Donora's set and then getting to the South Side somehow. I thought about bicycling but it had been kinda rainy all day and I didn't feel like showing up at two shows all sweaty because I had been biking for miles. So I took the bus. I hopped on the 82 on Centre in Shadyside and got off downtown then walked across the Roberto Clemente bridge and turned left after PNC Park and saw the American Eagle corporate logo on the side of a building in the near distance and knew that was it. I walked across a huge parking lot and finally arrived around 9:15. Donora took the stage just after 9:30.
When I got to the main entrance, there was one security guard standing outside. This was a free all-ages show, so I wasn't sure what he was doing. My friend had a purse with her, so he asked to check it. He riffled through it quickly and then pointed to her umbrella and said, "You can't bring that in." Neither of us was aware this was a rule, so she said "Uh, okay." He said she could leave it outside, hang it on the fence or something, and hope no one took it. I approached him and expected him to ask to look through my "purse" a.k.a. messenger bag, so I unclipped the clips and held it out towards him from my shoulders. "Can't bring that in," he said. "Oh, the umbrella, I know." (I had an umbrella in my hand.) "Can't bring in that bag." He meant my whole bag. "Why not?" I asked. "No large bags," he explained. Well, he said. It was hardly an explanation. "Even if I leave the umbrella out here, I can't bring this bag in?" I was making sure of the situation. "You can leave it in your car," he offered. "I took the bus here, and walked," I told him, and it almost looked like it was surprising somebody would show up at this place that hadn't driven there. "Don't you have a bag or coat check or something like that?" He shook his head, "Nope."
"You can leave it out here, take your chances," he offered. "Why the hell would I do that?" I wondered out loud. "Look, I don't wanna say I'm suggesting it—" "Then why would you say that?" He was silent.
Remember that I really want to see this show. I was missing part of another show to transport here and see this show. I had chosen to patronize this venue, and was going to enjoy a beer at this FREE show and, even though it was probably going to be $7 for crappy beer, I would suck it up and support a place that would put on a free show like this one. (I stand corrected though, they had $4.75 Guinness pints. Plastic cups, but still.) My bag contained a book (for reading on the bus), my video camera (for recording my friend's band playing at the next show), a Nalgene bottle with water (for hydration), an empty coffee mug (at the bus stop, I had finished a small cup of iced coffee I made before leaving my apartment), my phone charger (just in case), a package of kleenex, some Trident gum, and a couple of pens. The security guard knows none of this, because he never actually looked inside my bag, he just saw how "large" it was and deemed it inadmissible. I was not truly willing to leave my bag and its valuables on the sidewalk outside this place, but I thought that maybe if I could put some stuff in my shorts pockets and just leave the "least valuable" stuff in my bag, then I'd be able to go inside and see the show, so I thought I might as well ask, "Is there going to be somebody outside at this post all night?" He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know." He paused. "Don't you know somebody who drove?" An actual suggestion! (But still exuding disbelief at the fact that I didn't arrive in a car.) I couldn't think of anybody. I knew of only one person going for sure, but I only knew this person from online interaction and the only way I could communicate with her was via Twitter. That can be the fastest or slowest mode of communication, depending on your perspective. From the perspective of that situation, it was pretty slow.
I walked around the corner of the building to seethe and contemplate my options. At that time, three young ladies walked in my direction from the parking lot, each of them carrying purses, one of them just about the same size as my bag and certainly containing way more stuff than mine, judging by the "bulginess" of it. I just knew they would be let in, so I followed them up to the door and watched the guard check each of their purses and allow them through. One of them had a plastic bottle of Fuze juice in hers and he said she would have to dispose of it. No big deal, she just chugged it and threw it in the garbage. And then they were in. I went up to him and said, "That's okay? Those purses?" He just shrugged his shoulders. "They're bigger than my bag. What's the difference?" He kept shrugging his shoulders and said ... "Female."
That's it. He still hadn't even looked inside my bag. All he knew about me and my belongings was that I was a dude and I had a large bag, by some arbitrary definition of "large" that I doubt is spelled out explicitly anywhere. And I was still in disbelief that the best way he could think to explain the situation was with a simple shrug and an utterance of the opposite of my gender. If I was a female, he would have at least deemed it necessary to look inside my "purse" before letting me through. I was steaming and just turned around and walked away before he could say anything. I paced around on the sidewalk around the corner of the building wondering what to do. At that point, I saw a sign on the wall by the box office that had a list of things you could and could not bring into the venue. On the list was: food & drink of any kind, which makes sense, so I would have had to dump out my water bottle, no big deal; umbrellas, because I guess they don't want people stabbing each other with them or something; and large bags. What does "large" mean? Why is a purse any different? I was really tempted at that point to take the entirety of my bag and its contents and fit it into my friends purse, sans umbrellas and water bottle, and walk back up to the guard and see what he would have done. We wouldn't have been breaking any rules, really. But of course, that wouldn't accomplish anything except probably piss him off, so I stood there stewing. Meanwhile, I learned that my Twitter friend was already inside and had walked there since she lived in the neighborhood. So now I was plum out of options. I stood around for at least five minutes wondering what to do and racking my brain for other Pittsburgh music people I know that would be going, but I didn't actually know who was going for sure and don't have anybody's phone number.
I was about to give up and walk back across the bridge downtown and bus it to the South Side for the other show. Right then, my friend said, "Hey, isn't it that guy ... " and I turned around and there was my buddy David. By sheer chance he showed up right as I was about to leave, and he had driven there. I asked to leave my bag in his car and he said "Sure" and I was elated. I dropped everything in his car, and my friend left her umbrella, too, then we walked back to the entrance and went in no problem. The guard didn't even acknowledge me or even seem to recognize me, I guess. And it was a great show. And that was that.
So here's my issue: how was I supposed to know this was going to happen unless I had been there before and had this problem? They have a policy posted on a sign outside the box office, but that's it. Out of curiosity, I checked on their website, which is really the website for Promo West Live, a promotion company that manages four or five venues. On the general FAQ on the Promo West Live website they have the following question, the very last on the list:
"What can't I bring to a show with me?"
For the safety of both concert patrons and our staff, we do not allow the following items:
Food, drink, bottles or cans, coolers, lawn chairs, umbrellas, recording devices, fireworks, candles, laser pointers, incendiary devices, inline skates, skateboards, bicycles, pets, and any form of weapon, including knives, mace and / or pepper spray.
That's it. On the specific information page associated with Stage AE on this website, there is no further information about this policy. I'll stop asking questions now and just offer some suggestions:
Dear Stage AE,
You have the right to make policies and enforce them. However, you should make those policies well-known to patrons and not make any assumptions about how they transported to your venue. (I also didn't notice any bike racks in your vicinity, but that's for another time ...) In the event that someone doesn't know about your policy, there should be available backup options. What are you going to do in the winter when everyone shows up with bulky coats? You're telling me there's no coat check? That's going to be a hot mess. In more ways than one.
Also, please train your security guards to not be absolute dicks to people who are trying to patronize your venue. This particular person I interacted with was not only curt and unhelpful (and sexist), but offered no sympathy for my situation. He actually told me leaving my bag out on the sidewalk was the best option I had, and then tried to retract it.
I'm not sure I'll be back to your venue anytime soon. For anyone else who still chooses to go there, just be aware that this is what you might have to deal with.