Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he curates Song of the Day, 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, Weekend All Things Considered and Morning Edition, on which he earned the distinction of becoming the only 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 forthcoming anthology 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 Frogger machine. 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
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
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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Newport Folk Festival
11:01 am
Tue July 30, 2013

Colin Meloy, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Colin Meloy performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Meaganc Beauchemin for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 1:24 pm

After a long flurry of activity culminating in the release of The Decemberists' 2011 album The King Is Dead, frontman Colin Meloy announced his long-running, best-selling band would take a lengthy hiatus.

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Newport Folk Festival
2:40 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

The Felice Brothers, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Meagan Beauchemin for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:48 pm

In the beginning of The Felice Brothers' career, the band, from New York's Catskills, specialized in rowdy, stompy rock 'n' roll. But the group has spent the last few years exploring the more reflective side of its barroom-friendly, accordion-enhanced sound on albums like the 2011 hit Celebration, Florida.

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Newport Folk Festival
2:30 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

Lord Huron, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Meagan Beauchemin for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:47 pm

The L.A. band Lord Huron has figured out a way to blend the choirboy folk of a Fleet Foxes with the more roiling, polyrhythmic pursuits of a Vampire Weekend.

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Newport Folk Festival
2:19 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

Black Prairie, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:45 pm

When Colin Meloy put The Decemberists on long-term hiatus to focus on other projects — including his own set at this year's Newport Folk Festival — the remaining members needed their own fresh musical outlet.

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Newport Folk Festival
2:12 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

Spirit Family Reunion, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:46 pm

The Brooklyn band Spirit Family Reunion calls its sound "open-door gospel" — as in, gospel music that isn't tied to religion. It's another way of saying that the group plays wide-open songs of celebration, which in Spirit Family Reunion's case add up to a big, high-spirited, old-fashioned, appealingly playful folk-rock ramble, complete with vintage instruments and shout-along choruses performed around a single microphone.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:03 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

Dana Falconberry: Tiny Desk Concert

Dana Falconberry performs a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR Music in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2013.
Gabriella Demczuk NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:19 pm

Dana Falconberry's songs are gentle, almost invariably delicate, sometimes mysterious and frequently feather-light. But her music's sweet, intricate softness never stands in for strength: This is a confident songwriter, whether she's ambling through six- and seven-minute epics ("Leelanau," "Dolomite") or chirping sweetly in the bouncy "Crooked River."

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Newport Folk Festival
2:26 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:40 pm

It's not a stretch to call Frank Turner a folksinger, by any means, especially when he performs solo with an acoustic guitar. But he's also a rocker, a punk, a storyteller and an all-around delightful raconteur who sings self-deprecating songs about love, survival, debauchery, revolution and the many ways those topics intersect. Take away his backing players in The Sleeping Souls, and he still radiates the gale-force energy of a full band.

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Newport Folk Festival
2:03 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

The Lone Bellow, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

The Lone Bellow performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick NPR

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 11:09 am

Rising Brooklyn folk-pop band The Lone Bellow infuses its songs with charm, radiant hooks and intense emotions. Formed as a creative outlet for singer Zach Williams as his wife recovered from an accident that nearly paralyzed her, The Lone Bellow performs with a sense of necessity; given the circumstances, it's no surprise that the group so often reflects on redemption in memorable ways.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:53 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Langhorne Slim & The Law, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:38 pm

Pennsylvania native Sean Scolnick (a.k.a. Langhorne Slim) describes his own sound as "country punk," but it's not out of line to call him a sort of supercharged folksinger. He's got a big, ragged voice and a bigger personality — and little trouble grabbing a crowd's attention with raucous songs from his newest album, 2012's The Way We Move.

Hear Langhorne Slim and his band The Law perform as part of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Saturday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:55 am
Sun July 28, 2013

Justin Townes Earle, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Meagan Beauchemin for NPR

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

Justin Townes Earle has marinated in outlaw country music his whole life: The son of Steve Earle, named for the legendary Townes Van Zandt, was born to be an iconoclast.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:45 am
Sun July 28, 2013

Shovels & Rope, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:39 pm

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have spent the last decade or so singing sweetly, rowdily anthemic folk-country music together, most recently under the name Shovels & Rope. But the South Carolina husband-and-wife duo has only recently begun to take off on a national scale, thanks to a string of fantastically stirring live performances and a fi

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Newport Folk Festival
4:08 pm
Sat July 27, 2013

Hurray For The Riff Raff, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Hurray For The Riff Raff performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Mon July 7, 2014 5:10 pm

The New Orleans band Hurray for the Riff Raff exists as a vehicle for the powerhouse songs of singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra, whose gigantic voice conveys the grit of bluesy soul while still fitting within the realms of rootsy folk and country. The group just followed its dynamite 2012 album Look Out Mama with a Kickstarter-funded collection of covers (and two originals) called My Dearest Darkest Neighbor.

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Newport Folk Festival
3:31 pm
Sat July 27, 2013

John McCauley, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:37 pm

In the hands of John McCauley — who initially founded the group Deer Tick as a solo project — playing rowdy, free-wheeling rock 'n' roll is a feat free of self-importance.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:55 pm
Sat July 27, 2013

Phosphorescent, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Phosphorescent performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 11:04 am

  • Hear The Full Set: Phosphorescent At Newport

Raised in Alabama and based in Brooklyn, Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck makes moody, searching, raggedly pretty music that reflects the sounds of both his respective homes. But there's also a wise, homesick weariness to Houck's voice that transcends time and place: Listen at just the right time, and a Phosphorescent record feels like a warm conversation with a friend who understands loneliness.

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Newport Folk Festival
12:43 pm
Sat July 27, 2013

Hey Marseilles, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:36 pm

The Seattle septet Hey Marseilles makes some of the most good-natured chamber-pop music around, led by the unmistakably kind voice of Matt Bishop. Naturally, given the band's size, Hey Marseilles gets to make the most of a wide array of warm sounds, from cello and viola to horns and accordions, but those ingredients are all wisely wrapped around songwriting that exudes sweet, hooky sunshine.

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Monkey See
1:06 pm
Fri July 26, 2013

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Fan Gatherings And Fall Television

NPR
  • Listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour

We recorded this week's episode during the brief interregnum between the end of Glen Weldon's trip to the San Diego Comic Con and the beginning of Linda Holmes' two weeks at the Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles. So it seemed a perfect time to mine the two events for inspiration.

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All Songs Considered
4:13 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

The Good Listener: Learning To Love Country Music

Holly Williams.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat July 27, 2013 9:01 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the jury summons disguised as refund checks is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a search for entry points to country-music fandom.

Emily Carol Schmidt writes via Facebook: "I'm not super into country, but I now live in a place with 50+ country stations, so I'm giving it a second chance. But how? Do you just listen to it for a couple hours? Get recommendations? Go to a concert?"

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