Welcome to Night Vale is a community radio broadcast from a fictional American desert town where everything paranormal happens at once. Several times a year, this fiercely beloved horror-comedy podcast goes on tour, performing special live episodes around the U.S., Europe, and the world.
We talked to four members of the Night Vale crew—tour manager and presenter Meg Bashwiner, host Cecil Baldwin, co-creator Jeffrey Cranor, and composer/musician/production manager Jon Bernstein (aka Disparition)—about how to take a radio drama on the road.
What does the tour look like for you, and what’s your role?
Meg Bashwiner: We’re doing our fifth touring live show now. I started the job [of tour manager] in 2015; I’d been touring with the show since 2014.
I think that was a 55-day tour with over forty dates in a row. That was my training ground for tour management. We had two vehicles, a minivan and a 6.71m-long Sprinter van with three or four rows of seats and a big cargo hold. That thing was huge. We all took turns driving it. I hated that thing.
Each tour we do has its own alchemy of transportation. There are tours we do entirely driving, ones where we do a combination of flying and driving, and sometimes when we’re in Europe we do flying and trains. We’ve also had to take ferries before—we took a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria.
Jon Bernstein: I perform all of the background soundtrack music during the shows. And I’m also the production manager for the shows. I also produce the podcasts in terms of again just purely audio production. I do the scoring and sound tracking, and editing of all of the vocal work. And I end up doing a lot of that work on the road as well.
Jeffrey Cranor: I show up, and I do my part. As co-owner of the company and co-creator of the show, sometimes there are big picture questions I might get asked to answer. But for the most part when the tour happens I’m just a guest actor.
(Photo: Biz Jones )
Whom do you travel with?
Bashwiner: We need six people to do the show, and we can usually go up to about ten.
How do you plan and book your travel?
Bashwiner: I book all the travel. I get everything plotted out: I have everyone’s information, frequent flier numbers, passport information. When we’re planning the tours, I’ll use Skyscanner to see where and when the flights are going.
Do you have any travel brand loyalties?
Bashwiner: We really love the Hampton Inn; it’s a very solid budget hotel. There’s a ton of them, they’re relatively clean, there’s free breakfast and wifi and usually good parking. And they’re all kind of the same. You know what the bedding’s like, how the shower works, how to use the remote, what you’re gonna have at breakfast.
Bernstein: Sometimes we’ll stay in a fancier place as a treat. Or just due to some weirdness happening in that city. But generally, when we stay in the kind of mid-range chain hotels, Hampton is by far the best of that sort of world of hotels.
How do you pack for a tour?
Bashwiner: Everyone’s in charge of their own stuff and what they wear to the show. Everyone gets one suitcase, a backpack, and maybe another bag.
[I’ve got] a medium-size hardshell bag. Medium because when the large ones are full, they weigh more than fifty pounds, and you’ll be getting into a fight with the airlines every day, and that’s not cute. Hardshell because the bags sometimes end up in the rain. In New Zealand we were waiting for a plane and looking out the window, seeing all the luggage come through, and pouring rain soaking the bags. But my hardshell bags were fine.
Then there’s merchandise. We dropship a lot of our merchandise, but we also carry merchandise with us. And then we have Disparition’s musical equipment.
Bernstein: I have an Ableton Live bass setup. Everything runs through a laptop that I have on the stage. I use Ableton Live as the program to kind of run everything. So, I have my laptop, I have a controller which just has a number of buttons and sliders that I use to control the program. I have a few cables and [other] components. Then I have either a mandolin, or a mandola. I have everything configured such that anything that is essential for the show, is something that can come with me as a carry-on. I’m never separated from anything.
Cecil Baldwin: I’ve got one Muji hard-sided suitcase. I love this thing—in 10 years, I think I’ve had to replace one.
I [also] carry a side bag, sort of the hippie quintessential carry-on bag. And I alternate having a backpack or sometimes like a side-shoulder bag, just depending on the nature of the tour.
And then I have what I call my show bag. Which is another one that, man, I’ve had this thing for ten years, it is perfect. It’s a garment bag [from Linea]. Every single show I’ve ever done with Night Vale, it has accompanied me to the show.
What’s on your packing list?
Bashwiner: I have performance clothes, and then “clothes clothes.” One side of my suitcase has my dresses and my makeup and my hair stuff and my shoes. I believe in a place for everything. I’m packing and unpacking every day. So I have different sections of the bag for different things, and I know where to go every day.
I have bags within bags. I have a laundry bag, one from Baggu, bags that go into a little zipper pocket. I shove six Tide pods in that. You know the bag that new bed sheets come in? I use that for my shoes. I have my makeup in a bag, and one of those roll-up hanging toiletry things that packs compactly.
And then I bring a folded-up garment bag, so when I’m going to the theatre I can just pack my dress, my shoes, my makeup and my hair stuff in that, so I don’t have to take my whole suitcase to the show.
I try to keep it cute with the shoes—I bring three pairs of shoes with me: running shoes, heels for the show, and I’m a big fan of the cowboy boot for touring, because they dress up and they dress down. When you’re loading and unloading the car and dropping suitcases and stuff on your feet, it’s good to be in cowboy boots.
Baldwin: Things like train travel, you’re gonna pack differently than if you’re travelling on aeroplanes. And you’re going to pack extremely differently if you’re travelling by car, you know? Because you don’t have to worry about checking stuff and separating liquids out and all that sort of stuff.
But if you’re doing aeroplane travel, [you need] that side bag in case your luggage gets lost in Europe for a week. With this thing I can have two suits, shirts, a pair shoes, socks, some things I need for a performance, like some tea bags for my voice or my backstage pass.
Bernstein: I do put a lot of thought into the backpack that I use to carry audio gear: Ody USA is the current one I have. I use basically backpacks that are designed for DJ’s because they have compartments specifically for laptops. They have a ton of pockets. And they have a lot of padding in them.
The backpack is important to me. The suitcase, the actual suitcases, I usually I’ve had so much stuff happen to them that I just buy cheap ones. And use them until they fall apart. So, I just go to 99-cent stores to buy my big suitcase.
Cranor: When we do shows, my costume, as it were, is usually jeans, nice shoes, button-down shirt, bow tie and sports coat. The bow tie is always a nice thing because it’s more unusual than a normal tie, and people are like, “You look great.” I’m like, “That’s great. The bow tie distracts from the fact that I’m wearing jeans.”
The other thing that I made sure with my suitcase is I bought them in bright orange just because I know when my suitcase is out. Having an identifiable suitcase is really, really nice. It’s a nice orange. When my suitcase pops out, I want to know it’s mine. I don’t like the whole drill of like, “Oh, here’s another black roller; let’s see if this says Jeffrey Cranor on it.”
What snacks do you bring?
Bashwiner: When you’re tour manager, you always have to have a little bit of food on you, because “hangry” is something you can prevent among your soldiers. I always try to have in my purse assorted granola bars, sometimes fruit. I can hand someone a Clif bar, a Kind bar, or an Rx bar, we’re big on those. I like packets of almond butter.
I try not to eat or drink too much on planes; it grosses me out a bit. I just try to drink water and eat a granola bar.
Bernstein: We definitely have preferred band snacks. A lot of us are big fans of jerky. We’ve gotten actually really good at crafting our hospitality riders so that we can basically eat dinner for free. We take stuff from the green rooms on the road with us, instead of having to buy road snacks.
Cranor: We had Clif Bars for a long time as one of our backstage things. The Clif Bar was our green M&Ms thing, which was the trick of just making sure people had read your rider, so you put a very specific flavour of Clif Bar down there.
Usually, if they provided a single Clif Bar, we knew they read it, but usually they would buy us a box of them. They wouldn’t get eaten, so we’d be like, “Well, we paid for these, so why let them go to waste?” Eventually, Meg has in her a kitchen a whole drawer of it.
How do you entertain yourself on the road?
Bashwiner: I’m a podcast listener. We listen to a lot of podcasts while we’re driving, I listen while working out and on planes. I listen to the Bon Appetit food podcast, to Radio Cherry Bomb, My Favourite Murder.
Science Vs. is a good universal show for all of us to listen to in the van — you learn a little something, it’s funny, it’s interesting. I just got into Sold in America, Serial, Reply All.
Disparition is a great navigator, and he has a great musical selection. Sometimes we’ll do car karaoke, we’ll play games with music—we’ll start out with a song, and the next person has to pick a song that relates to that one in some way.
If I’m not driving, I’ll download some Netflix or Amazon. And then there’s the horrible reality TV we watch when we get back to the hotel.
Baldwin: I am not a big podcast listener. I like my Netflix, I’ve got my Amazon Prime for TV shows. It’s always fun on tour when there’s a TV show that two or three of us are watching because you lose time when you’re on tour. So when you have shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race — or Symphony Sanders and I were really into Castle Rock, when that was coming out on Amazon. You’re just like, sweet, it’s a Tuesday, you know what that means! We get to watch this TV show after the show is over.
Bernstein: For some reason, I can’t really do the whole e-reader thing. So I still have to devote a section of my suitcase to a few paper books.
Cranor: I have an Amazon Fire so I can get Netflix on there and download some stuff. On my most recent travels, I downloaded all of Haunting of Hill House and was watching that. Sometimes I’ll do that and then other times just read through whatever book I have going.
The [Nintendo] Switch is really nice if I know I’m going to be out for a long time. I bought that last year when Joseph and I did a book tour. I played so much Zelda. I’m just beside myself with how much Zelda I’ve played.
How do you find restaurants on the road?
Bashwiner: We stop for lunch every day for at least a half hour, and I always pick out a place ahead of time. My rule is no chain restaurants, and there has to be something healthy on the menu. So I research that, and I try to mix it up.
I also try to balance things regionally; in the South I’ll make sure there’s one day we get barbecue. I’m a big fan of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, because they’re usually cool and fun and local.
I think sometimes with rest stops it can feel like you’re not actually off the road, if you’re eating at a food court McDonald’s on the side of the highway. If you go that extra mile, you can feel like you’re a person, in a place that isn’t a hotel or a theatre or a gas station. Get some healthy food, get a cup of coffee.
The Night Vale tour has a bit of a wellness vibe to it; we eat healthy and exercise. We’re a little older to be touring! You’ve got to take care of your body when you’re asking as much of it as we do.
Baldwin: Meg is really great about finding us plant-based, natural, healthy cuisine. There’s nothing worse than getting into a van and being like, ok we’ve three or four more hours of driving left and you are just in a McDonald’s hamburger hangover, knowing that you then have at least eight more hours of work ahead of you.
What’s your arrival ritual?
Bashwiner: When I show up at the hotel in the afternoon, before I sit down and get to my computer, before I do anything else, I change into my gym clothes and I go to the gym. If I stop for a second I will just totally lose my momentum. It’s hard to convince yourself to do it. But as soon as you’re done and you shower and you’re driving to the venue, you feel like a million bucks.
Baldwin: We generally have an hour and a half to two hours of hotel time before we have to go to soundcheck. And in that time, I have a playlist that I call my sleepy playlist, which is a lot of sort of Tibetan/Buddhist chanting and chill ambient beats that I can put on in the middle of the afternoon, take a 45 minute power nap, no more no less. Wake up, take the hottest shower I can possible take.
One of the items I have learned to splurge on is really great smelling body wash. Because when it’s three, four in the afternoon and you’ve been in a van or in aeroplanes and airports and this very sterile, recycled air, no-moisture environment, it’s necessary to begin putting away the travel side of my brain and awakening the actor side of my brain.
Bernstein: I generally use the time to work out, or go for a swim. And change, and that’s about it. But I find that really helpful. Especially after being in a car all day.
Cranor: Once I get to the hotel I usually unpack. Then if I have time and if the hotel is in town, I will usually go for a walk. I’ll usually look up … a coffee place. Fancy coffee places are usually in a part of town where there’s a lot of old shops and galleries and maybe theatres or something. My job on tour is less stressful than Cecil’s and Jon’s jobs, so I’ll just walk around for a little bit. I’m not much of a napper.
What’s the best meal you’ve had on a trip?
Baldwin: I’ve probably had two of the best meals in Charleston, South Carolina. [Coast Bar and Grill] is one of the best seafood restaurants I’ve ever been to in my life.
Very fancy, but it was perfect. And then last time we went to Charleston, after the show, a group of us went to [Smoke BBQ]. I expend a lot of energy on stage. So afterwards, I’m like, I want protein and I want it now! And I want it in massive quantities! And this barbecue place was just amazing. Like, grits and cheese, shrimp and grits, pulled pork sandwiches, beef brisket that just fell apart, oh it was so good.
Bernstein: There’s a [place] called the Yellow Deli —they have delis in weird little stores all around the world. We really like to stop at their deli in Oneonta, New York. They have really good chilli and corned beef sandwiches. And they’re kind of a religious sect that runs the place.
Cranor: [In Sweden] Joseph [Fink, co-creator of Night Vale] found this wonderful restaurant: Den Gyldene Freden.
It’s the oldest restaurant in Stockholm — it was established in 1722, so it’s a terribly old restaurant. Joseph and I bought dinner for everyone, and we had the most amazing meal. We all just had a night to relax and be around each other and not have to think about travelling the next day or doing a show that night.
The food was impeccable, and it was classic Swedish cuisine, so there was definitely meatballs and, what is it, is it lingonberries? It was just a moment where we just all found peace together for a couple of hours at this really, really beautiful restaurant. People say I’m always chasing that high. When I’m very stressed, I’m like, “I’m going to go back to Den Gyldene Freden.” That place was amazing.
What are your favourite travel apps/tech?
Bashwiner: We use a program and mobile app called Master Tour. It’s got everything a tour manager could ever possibly need: the accounting stuff, merchandise, per diem, crew routing, venue information, promoter information, guest lists—all that is there for the tour manager.
Then everyone in my crew has a Master Tour app and can see what the day’s schedule, is what the hotel is, what the venue is, what tomorrow looks like, what the distances are, whether the venue has a washer/dryer, all their flight information. There’s a chat function, a guest list function so they can add names to the guest list … all they need to do is look it up. It’s so good! When I first started, I’d compile all that information in an email every day, but now it’s all there from the beginning of the tour.
Baldwin: The thing that I love the most is Snapseed, a very comprehensive photo editing tool. So you’re not just throwing the same Instagram filter on things. Honestly, the importance of taking pictures for me is not just, oh look at the cool stuff I’m doing! It’s also so six months later, I can be like, oh my gosh, remember when I was on the other side of the planet?
Bernstein: I use something called a Lug Loc which is a luggage tracking device and service. It’s a Bluetooth device that also connects with cell networks. And I just throw it in my bag. And then I can look it up on my phone, and locate where my bag is.
Cranor: [I always use] FlightAware: you just punch in your airline flight number, and it will tell you a lot of things. One, for the flight on the date that you’re going, it will tell you the gate it’s leaving from and going to. It will show you the flight plan, so it’ll show you your route and also what their estimated actual flight time is going to be. It’ll also give you a full history of that particular flight and how long it took every time.
The other app that I use is SeatGuru, which [will] show you the map of every plane of every airline. You can tell it your flight number, and it’ll show you the whole map of the plane. You click on seats, and it’ll tell you, “Don’t sit in this seat. The window next to it is missing. It’s offset from the window,” or “This seat … doesn’t look like it, but it’s at the bulkhead, so don’t sit here.
You get some extra legroom, but you can’t put your stuff down, and you won’t have a television,” that sort of thing.
What do you buy on the road?
Baldwin: I dated a guy for a while who works with the Japanese mission to the UN. He taught me the importance of omiyage. If you go on vacation, wherever you go, you are expected to bring back small small gifts that are of the place that you went.
So, if I was to do a West Coast tour and we did a stop over in San Francisco, I would bring back Ghirardelli chocolate or Sees Candy or something that is very of the West Coast. I try to do that and look for those things along the way, so it’s a fun activity.
I was … in Helsinki and I picked up this little guy, he’s like a little bobble head made of copper. He’s perfectly round, it’s just like this perfect little thing. Every time I see it, it’s like, aw yeah! The brilliance of Scandinavian design.
Cranor: I love having cool patterned socks, so I almost always buy socks when I’m on the road if I see something cool. Nowadays I’m really into stickers—I put them all over my suitcases. It’s really hard to find stickers of things, so I’m usually on a search for that. You get to an airport and you think, this is the classic trope, the traveller’s suitcase covered in stickers of all the places they’ve been, but airports tend not to carry those..
What’s been your biggest travel splurge?
Baldwin: I was in Norway and I found an art gallery that specialised in street art. I found this amazing print by a local artist in Bergen, Norway, of Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music in sort of her classic, “The Hills Are Alive” open-arms thing, except she was flipping the bird with both hands.
I had got into this conversation with the guy who owned the gallery and it was a limited edition print so he hand-printed, “Only Fifty” and then [he] and the artist took coloured paint and then just free form splattered them. So each one is different.
Bernstein: I had kind of a week in between a tour and a family vacation. So I booked myself a little solo kind of writing time trip to a small Dutch town. And stayed in this hotel that was like a bunker that had been converted into a hotel. And rented a bike. I treated myself to basically a little mini writing, solo writing retreat. And it was definitely worth it. It was great.
Cranor: The biggest travel splurge I ever made was when we did our first Australia tour in early 2016. I flew Air New Zealand from LA to Auckland to start the tour, and I bought myself a first-class ticket down there. Which is incredibly expensive, but it’s .. this is a 15-hour flight or 13, whatever it was, and I was like, “I’m going to do it.” It felt worth it to me, but it was a thing where it sort of ruins you. Because then when you have to fly long distance in the future not in first class, you’re like, “Oh, this sucks.”
These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.