Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he writes the advice column The Good Listener, fusses over the placement of commas and appears as a frequent panelist on the podcasts All Songs Considered and Pop Culture Happy Hour. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the weekly NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk.

In 1993, Thompson founded The Onion's entertainment section, The A.V. Club, which he edited until December 2004. In the years since, he has provided music-themed commentaries for the NPR programs Weekend Edition Sunday, All Things Considered and Morning Edition, on which he earned the distinction of becoming the first member of the NPR Music staff ever to sing on an NPR newsmagazine. (Later, the magic of AutoTune transformed him from a 12th-rate David Archuleta into a fourth-rate Cher.) Thompson's entertainment writing has also run in Paste magazine, The Washington Post and The London Guardian.

During his tenure at The Onion, Thompson edited the 2002 book The Tenacity of the Cockroach: Conversations with Entertainment's Most Enduring Outsiders (Crown) and copy-edited six best-selling comedy books. While there, he also coached The Onion's softball team to a sizzling 21-42 record, and was once outscored 72-0 in a span of 10 innings. Later in life, Thompson redeemed himself by teaming up with the small gaggle of fleet-footed twentysomethings who won the 2008 NPR Relay Race, a triumph he documents in a hard-hitting essay for the book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years (Chronicle).

A 1994 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Thompson now lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his two children and a room full of vintage arcade machines. His hobbies include watching reality television without shame, eating Pringles until his hand has involuntarily twisted itself into a gnarled claw, using the size of his Twitter following to assess his self-worth, touting the immutable moral superiority of the Green Bay Packers and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Song Premiere: The Avett Brothers, 'Another Is Waiting'

The Avett Brothers will release Magpie and the Dandelion on Oct. 15
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 8:46 am

It hasn't even been 11 full months since The Avett Brothers released The Carpenter, the North Carolina band's most recent collection of poignant and infectious, bluegrass-inflected folk-rock.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Wed August 7, 2013

Stars: 'Wishful' Thinking In A Fizzy New Song

Stars will release a new 7" single, "Wishful"/"The Light," on Sept. 10.
Norman Wong

Originally published on Wed August 7, 2013 9:08 am

The Montreal pop band Stars wears many faces, literally and figuratively: Singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell swap lead vocals in songs that range from effervescent pop-rock to grandiose dance music to melancholy, string-enhanced dirges. With so much to choose from in the group's toolbox, a few gems are bound to get left off its records — a wrong Stars will help right with a new single next month.

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Newport Folk Festival
8:03 am
Tue August 6, 2013

The Mountain Goats, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Members of the Mountain Goats perform live at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick NPR

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 11:16 am

The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle spent the 1990s recording his songs — just a voice, an acoustic guitar and bracingly articulate lyrics about catastrophe and survival — on low-fidelity equipment like boom boxes. It got to the point where the tape hiss felt like another instrument, but in the last decade, the Mountain Goats' music has become ever more polished.

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Newport Folk Festival
4:45 pm
Sat August 3, 2013

The Lumineers, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

The Lumineers performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 10:46 am

The Lumineers may have on the pop scene out of nowhere — scoring a worldwide hit with the band's self-titled 2012 debut album and its multimillion-selling single "Ho Hey" — but the Denver group had tooled around in obscurity for quite a few years before its breakthrough. These days, though, it's one of the biggest folk-rock outfits in the business, joining a suspenders-clad Mount Rushmore with the likes of Mumford & Sons.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:45 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

Berklee Gospel & Roots Choir, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 8:51 am

The Newport Folk Festival understands the value of a good palate-cleanser — not to mention the way folk and gospel's roots intertwine — so this year's lineup taps the rich vein of talent at Boston's Berklee College of Music to bring fans the Berklee Gospel & Roots Choir.

Hear the group perform as part of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Sunday, July 28 in Newport, R.I.

Set List

  • "Strange Fruit"
  • "Work Song / It Is Well With My Soul"
  • "I'll Never Turn Back To More"
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All Songs Considered
10:32 am
Thu August 1, 2013

The Good Listener: Are Bands Right To Scold Fans With Cellphones?

The Gaslight Anthem, as seen through a cellphone.
Adam Gasson Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 6:59 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the helpful $40-a-pop reminders not to speed on North Capitol Street is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: a discussion of cellphone recordings at concerts.

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Newport Folk Festival
5:47 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Houndmouth, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Houndmouth performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Mon July 7, 2014 5:11 pm

Houndmouth may record for taste-making U.K. label Rough Trade, but everything else about the telegenic folk-rock group bleeds Americana: All four members of the Indiana band share lead vocals throughout their warm, rambling songs. Houndmouth's full-length debut, From the Hills Below the City, just came out.

Hear Houndmouth perform as part of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Saturday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

Set List

  • "Penitentiary"
  • "On The Road"
  • "Houston Train"
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Newport Folk Festival
5:45 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Iris DeMent, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Iris Dement performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:44 pm

Iris DeMent is as credible as folksingers come: The 52-year-old singer-songwriter grew up singing traditional gospel and country music alongside 14 siblings in rural Arkansas. Once endorsed as "the best singer I ever heard" by no greater an authority than Merle Haggard, DeMent seems to emerge from another era entirely.

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Newport Folk Festival
12:02 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Tift Merritt, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Meagan Beauchemin for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 4:01 pm

Tift Merritt was first known as a decorated country singer — her 2004 album Tambourine was even nominated for a Best Country Album Grammy — but the North Carolina native has spent the years since wandering down far-flung side roads. Merritt keeps finding ways to place literal and figurative distance between herself and Nashville: She's lived in New York City and France, while exploring the sounds of folk, cosmopolitan pop and even classical music.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:25 am
Tue July 30, 2013

Andrew Bird, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 3:50 pm

Andrew Bird's records have grown quieter and more intimate in recent years, but he remains a remarkably dynamic live performer: Last year's Break It Yourself wouldn't seem to be the stuff of blockbuster live shows, and yet when he took it to the stage, he injected its characteristically smart, brooding songs with surprising intensity. Of course, it helps that, 12 albums into an unpredictable career, Bird has become a cult superstar whose fans clearly fuel him onstage.

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