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
11:55 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Nickel Creek, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Chris Thile and Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek perform at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins and Chris Thile started out as child prodigies, then built their band into a Grammy-winning commercial force. At the height of their success, though, the three decided to break up and pursue other projects — albeit temporarily, as the title of 2007's "Farewell (For Now) Tour" suggested.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:52 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Shovels & Rope, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of Shovels and Rope perform at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Equal parts rowdy and loving, the husband-and-wife South Carolina duo Shovels & Rope radiates knockabout charm. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are equally adept at crooning moonily while locking eyes and tearing through blistering folk-rock anthems without seeming to take a breath. Hearst and Trent often swap instruments, giving their sets a freewheeling, unpredictable quality.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:49 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Pokey LaFarge, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Pokey LaFarge performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

You can bundle it up in MP3s and send it zinging through the ether, but Pokey LaFarge's music still seems as though it has emerged from the dustiest 78 at the thrift shop. LaFarge is a man out of time and a true wanderer, with the vintage clothing to match, but he never seems like a mere novelty act: His songs are too sturdy, with too much infectiously zippy energy, to feel anything but authentic.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:47 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Aoife O'Donovan, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Aoife O'Donovan performs with bassist Paul Kowert at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Aoife O'Donovan got her start in a pair of folk-leaning groups, Sometymes Why and Crooked Still, the latter of which became one of the country's top modern string bands.

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Newport Folk Festival
9:52 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Band Of Horses, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Band of Horses performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Cinematic sweep is hardwired into Band of Horses' sound: Ben Bridwell's voice always seems to be echoing through some canyon or other, whether the guitars are chiming to the rafters or drifting along drowsily. The group's most recent records, Infinite Arms and Mirage Rock, have tended toward the latter half of that equation, but Band of Horses remains versatile in tone, especially onstage.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Song Premiere: Horse Feathers, 'Violently Wild'

Horse Feathers.
John Clark Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 12:47 pm

Describing Horse Feathers almost inevitably diminishes the band's music: "Let's see, the lead singer has a beard and a soft voice, and he plays the acoustic guitar, and there's a string section. Oh, and they're from Portland, of course." All those identifying details hold true, and yet Horse Feathers' music never feels slight or ineffectual.

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Newport Folk Festival
2:26 pm
Sun July 27, 2014

Jenny Lewis, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Jenny Lewis performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Jenny Lewis' voice has helped provide a soundtrack to the last 15 years, but it's not part of one specific sound: She's sung heartsick ballads and spiky rock (in Rilo Kiley), summery surf-pop (in Jenny and Johnny), winsome electro-pop (in

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Newport Folk Festival
6:23 am
Sat July 26, 2014

The Devil Makes Three: Newport Folk 2014

Pete Bernhard (right) and Cooper McBean of The Devil Makes Three perform at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Sat July 26, 2014 3:43 pm

A thumbnail description of The Devil Makes Three — "acoustic string-band music with no drummer" — makes its music seem old-fashioned, even quaint. But the California trio plays with boozy aggression and unhinged intensity. If there were a Newport Punk Festival (and, really, why shouldn't there be?), The Devil Makes Three wouldn't be out of place in its lineup, amplification be damned.

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Newport Folk Festival
6:17 am
Sat July 26, 2014

Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Anais Mitchell (right) and Jefferson Hamer perform at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 10:03 am

There's ambition rooted in the pursuit of personal glory, and then there's creative ambition, rooted in a desire to do what hasn't already been done. Anais Mitchell is a folksinger with a kind, approachable voice.

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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri July 25, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Culture Between The Coasts And Imperfect Fits

NPR
  • Listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour

In San Diego or its sprawling surrounding area? Come to the East Plaza Gazebo in Seaport Village (between Village Cafe and Ben & Jerry's) on Saturday morning, any time between 9 and noon PT, to hang out with the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang! It's just an informal meet-and-greet — we wanted a chance to hang out with folks in the area who couldn't get tickets to the San Diego Comic-Con that week — but we'd love to see anyone who's able to swing by.

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First Listen
11:01 pm
Sun July 20, 2014

First Listen: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 'Hypnotic Eye'

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' new album, Hypnotic Eye, comes out July 29.
Mary Ellen Matthews Courtesy of the artist

Even when he was in his late 20s, Tom Petty had a curmudgeonly edge to him, so it's no surprise that he's sneering about threats to the American dream in the opening moments of his new album, Hypnotic Eye. At 63, Petty is well into his transition to full-blown misanthropy, at times splitting the difference between Randy Newman and Bob Dylan.

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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri July 18, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour: For Our 200th Episode, Quizzes And A Q&A

NPR
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It seems like it's been about 200 weeks since we started hyping the 200th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, and it's finally here. This is the second hour of our June 24 live show in NPR's Studio 1, and it's got a bit of everything — but first, a few announcements.

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Music
7:07 am
Fri July 18, 2014

At 2014's Newport Folk Festival, 5 Discoveries To Stretch Folk's Limits

If you look closely, Reignwolf's guitar is plugged in. Newport's 1965 crowd would not be pleased.
Dana Yavin

Originally published on Mon July 21, 2014 3:37 pm

From its legendary beachfront locale to its celebrations of folk music's past, the Newport Folk Festival draws on more than half a century of celebrated traditions. But it's also an event in which folk's boundaries are tested: This is, after all, where Bob Dylan famously plugged in an electric guitar 49 years ago, in the process enraging the purists in the crowd.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Fri July 18, 2014

NPR Music Returns For 2014's Newport Folk Festival

Hurray For The Riff Raff performed at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival — and makes a return engagement this year.
Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Fri July 18, 2014 11:39 am

The Newport Folk Festival has been around for more than half a century now — this is its 55th year, to be exact — and the event now routinely sells out months before its lineup is even announced. And why shouldn't it?

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All Songs Considered
12:03 pm
Sat July 12, 2014

The Good Listener: Has The Term 'Indie Rock' Lost All Meaning?

If Arcade Fire sells gold and wins a Grammy for Album of the Year, is it still outside the mainstream?
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the flyers that either wildly underestimate or wildly overestimate our credit-worthiness is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what constitutes "indie rock" in 2014.

Antfitgodd writes via Facebook: "The term 'indie' has been subsumed by major labels, whose acts often try to mimic indie-rock sensibilities — which changes what it means to play music that is not bland Top 40 drivel. Do you think 'indie rock' as a genre is dead?"

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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Bucket Lists And Summertime, Live In D.C.

NPR
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We haven't even gotten to Episode 200 of Pop Culture Happy Hour — that's running next week, when we present the second part of this June 24 live show — and we've already got a special announcement about our next live appearance. On July 24 at 2 p.m. PT, Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and I will storm the San Diego Comic Con for a live panel discussion with a special guest: my dear mother, Maggie Thompson.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

First Listen: Luluc, 'Passerby'

Luluc's new album, Passerby, comes out July 15.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 11:09 am

Luluc writes songs for late-night drives and uneventful mornings — stuff to slow the blood and the world outside. Bred in Australia but partly based in Brooklyn, Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett traffic in gentle, disarming simplicity, rarely allowing their music to speed up past a gentle lope. But for all their consistency of tone — and quality — Passerby's 10 songs never congeal into a blur or feel like a slog. Like the duo's labelmates in Low, Luluc uses calm as a medium unto itself.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

First Listen: Trampled By Turtles, 'Wild Animals'

Trampled By Turtles' new album, Wild Animals, comes out July 15.
Zoran Orlić Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 11:11 am

The bluegrass-based Minnesota folk-rock band Trampled By Turtles knows how to play at extreme speeds, to the point where its careening compositions can seem downright unhinged. But its last two records, 2012's Stars and Satellites and the new Wild Animals, mostly move at a deliberate, even graceful pace.

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All Songs Considered
11:03 am
Fri July 4, 2014

The Good Listener: On Recommending Songs With Profanity

Cee-Lo.
Matthias Clamer Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside our neighbors' mis-delivered subscription copies of unnerving magazines is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on sharing music that might inadvertently expose someone else's kids to foul language.

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