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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Newport Folk Festival
3:41 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

Gary Clark Jr., Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

Gary Clark Jr. plays the Quad Stage at the Newport Folk Festival.
Erik Jacobs Erik Jacobs for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 13, 2014 11:16 am

Like many artists performing under the broad umbrella of "folk music" at this year's Newport Folk Festival, Gary Clark Jr. isn't settling inside any genre, let alone folk. Working off a template of bluesy rock, he infuses the gritty songs on his Bright Lights EP with elements of soul, pop and even reggae. Above all, he's a positively ferocious young guitarist, with a reputation as an up-and-comer poised for one of those 30-, 40-, even 50-year careers.

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Newport Folk Festival
5:48 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

Sara Watkins, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

Sara Watkins plays the Fort Stage at the Newport Folk Festival.
Erik Jacobs Erik Jacobs for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 13, 2014 11:15 am

Sara Watkins isn't the flashiest of singing stars, but she's already carved out a remarkable career: She got her start as a kid with Chris Thile and her brother Sean in the heavily decorated, platinum-selling Nickel Creek, and has since gone on to perform with The Decemberists,

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Newport Folk Festival
3:16 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

tUnE-yArDs, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

tUnE-yArDs performs on the Harbor Stage at the Newport Folk Festival.
Erik Jacobs for NPR

Originally published on Sat July 26, 2014 5:11 pm

Merrill Garbus, the mastermind behind tUnE-yArDs, often uses a minimal assortment of resources — a ukulele, some pedals, a bit of percussion here and there — to craft an explosive, unpredictable, worldly, beautiful and utterly inventive sound. On last year's widely beloved w h o k i l l, Garbus' music forms a cut-up collage of coos, howls and bold statements of purpose, but her live shows fan out into epic rave-ups, complete with a pair of saxophonists.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:06 am
Mon July 30, 2012

Blind Pilot, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

Blind Pilot performs at the 2012 Newport Folk Festival.
Douglas Mason

Originally published on Mon June 23, 2014 4:13 pm

Since expanding from a duo into a sextet, Blind Pilot has given its warmly catchy, charmingly delicate folk-pop a bit of a propulsive kick: For all the band's sweet, easy-going grace, it's a special pleasure to hear it apply a percussive jolt to songs like "We Are the Tide." Released last year, the album of the same name is consistently engaging, but Israel Nebeker's songs about nature and desire sound best when Blind Pilot puts some muscle behind them.

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Newport Folk Festival
3:43 pm
Sun July 29, 2012

Dawes, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

Dawes performs on the Fort Stage at the Newport Folk Festival.
Erik Jacobs for NPR

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 2:31 pm

The L.A. band Dawes carries a serious torch for the greatest moments of rock's collision with folk and country: Buffalo Springfield, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band.

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Newport Folk Festival
10:34 am
Sun July 29, 2012

Spirit Family Reunion, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

Erik Jacobs for NPR

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 2:39 pm

The last band to open for Levon Helm before his death earlier this year, Brooklyn's Spirit Family Reunion crafts a sweetly ramshackle Americana sound that's part secular gospel revival, part folk ramble.

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Newport Folk Festival
5:28 pm
Sat July 28, 2012

First Aid Kit, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

Erik Jacobs Erik Jacobs for NPR

Originally published on Mon June 23, 2014 4:12 pm

The young Swedish sisters in First Aid Kit got their break when their cover of Fleet Foxes' "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" became a gigantic hit on YouTube, attracting three million views and many comparisons to, well, Fleet Foxes.

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Newport Folk Festival
5:11 pm
Sat July 28, 2012

Alabama Shakes, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012

Erik Jacobs for NPR

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 2:39 pm

For all the attention Alabama Shakes' music has attracted in 2012 — and its album Boys & Girls marked a huge breakthrough earlier this year — the live stage is where the soulful blues-rock band transcends mere "one to watch" status. Boys & Girls is the work of polished professionals at the top of their game, but in concert, Alabama Shakes' music reaches ecstatic, sprawling, rafter-shaking heights.

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Concerts
2:02 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

Sigur Rós In Concert

Sigur Ros performs at Celebrate Brooklyn's Prospect Park Bandshell on July 31, 2012.
Ryan Muir for NPR

Originally published on Mon June 23, 2014 4:23 pm

Sigur Rós could be forgiven for sounding better on record than in concert. The Icelandic band's songs either billow out deliberately or stomp majestically, and in every case entail the building of layers upon intricate sonic layers. Plus, singer Jónsi — he of the otherworldly voice, singing mostly in a ghostly language of his own devising — is no Mick Jagger when it comes to calling attention to himself.

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All Songs Considered Blog
4:20 pm
Wed July 18, 2012

Song Premiere: Meshell Ndegeocello With Valerie June, 'Be My Husband'

Meshell Ndegeocello.
Charlie Gross

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 10:35 am

The word "uneven" gets tossed around in critical parlance to signify artists whose fingers stray from the quality-control button — to suggest that they don't know their own genius when they hear it.

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