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“Welcome to Nightvale,” a podcast of the surreal

Meg Bashwiner (Deb) and Cecil Balwdin (Cecil Palmer) perform at The Music Hall on March 13

Ah, October, the weather is colder, pumpkin spice is in the air and we’re still mostly stuck inside, overloaded with homework and the existential dread of being at school during a global pandemic. We all need something to listen to while waiting for our next Zoom meeting to start and “Welcome to Nightvale” is a perfect balm for those 20 minutes when you have nothing to do. It is the perfect podcast to take that existential dread and make it your own.  “Welcome to Nightvale” is a fiction podcast featuring the radio show of desert town Nightvale. Every day brings something stranger and odder, not to the residents of Nightvale who mostly view these events with a shrug, but to us, the listener. As you continue through the series, you’ll cherish the presence of some recurring characters and feel the absence of many others, all the while being guided by the voice of Nightvale, Cecil Palmer (who is played by Cecil Baldwin).  

It is not scary in the traditional sense, but the way all of the events portrayed in the town are spoken of so normally, it is definitely enough to send chills down the spine, especially when the show gets existential, which it does, often. It is surreal, occasionally taking already extraordinary circumstances and pushing them ever further, often to the point of hilarity but only if you don’t think about it too long. Who could’ve imagined that the Glow Cloud (all hail) that drops dead animal carcasses and is met in episode 2 would also become a school board member after deeming Nightvale a great place to raise its child? It is almost impossible to expect anything from Nightvale, other than it will follow its own rules that are beyond our outsider’s understanding, except for when it doesn’t. For the most part, the episodes can stand on their own as independent stories but it is strongly recommended to start from the beginning, as that lets you be introduced to many characters and events as the residents of Nightvale first become aware of them.  

“Welcome to Nightvale” also serves as a wonderful introduction to new music. Most episodes feature a segment called the weather, which serves as a musical break in the episode’s story. “The Bus is Late” from Satellite High was a particularly memorable one, occurring within the second episode of the podcast and in some ways really came to encapsulate the podcast’s tone within the fandom. Most of the artists are under the radar, with some of the bigger names, or ones you were most likely to hear elsewhere, being The Mountain Goats, Eliza Rickman and AJJ.  

All in all, it’s worth a listen, at least the first few episodes to see if you like it, especially if you are a fan of conspiracy theories, the occult, or similar ‘weird’ hobbies. And if you are the kind of person who likes to go to live shows of podcasts, I can safely say that this is one you won’t want to miss next time Night Vale Presents is on tour. I was very lucky in being able to go to their performance at The Music Hall before the rest of the tour was postponed due to the Covid-19, and it was just as wonderfully witty, surreal and touching in person as listening to the event from the comfort of my home was.     

Photo courtesy of Cee Annis

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