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
11:45 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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Music
3:14 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

5 New Faces Of Folk, At The 2013 Newport Folk Festival

Alynda Lee Segarra records as Hurray For The Riff Raff, one of the emerging acts making its debut at the Newport Folk Festival this year.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 23, 2013 6:16 pm

The Newport Folk Festival's history is dotted with historic moments involving musical icons — Bob Dylan plugging in jumps immediately to mind. But, while organizers still take care to stack each festival with huge names and star veterans, the margins are smartly and lovingly curated, too. The 2013 Newport Folk Festival is no different, with an impressive slate of boundary-pushers and genre-eschewers. Here are five of the newest and most promising faces, with a downloadable song from each.

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All Songs Considered
3:47 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

The Good Listener: Does Ignoring A Friend's Mix Make You A Bad Person?

Not every mix gets the loving attention we feel it deserves.
Chloe Coleman NPR

Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 7:25 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the aluminum-siding pamphlets disguised as jury summons is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a blistering rebuttal of last week's column.

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All Songs Considered
2:43 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

The Good Listener: When You Make Someone A Mix, What Do They Owe You?

Chloe Coleman NPR

Originally published on Mon July 15, 2013 10:22 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the shampoo samples we accidentally tossed into the fireplace is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, the etiquette surrounding the giving and receiving of mix CDs.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:03 pm
Mon July 1, 2013

Laura Mvula: Tiny Desk Concert

Laura Mvula performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 15, 2013.
Marie McGrory NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:24 pm

Listen to Laura Mvula's terrific full-length debut, Sing to the Moon, and you'll hear soulful pop music in Technicolor. The U.K. singer's sonic ambition is boundless: Her intricately layered songs straddle genres, locations and eras in ways that sound entirely original.

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All Songs Considered
1:53 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

The Good Listener: When Is It OK To Hold Seats At A Festival?

These Newport Folk Festival fans knew well enough to position themselves a ways back from the stage.
Mito Habe-Evans NPR

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 8:41 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the flyers from reputable debt-consolidation companies is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a vexing piece of concert-going etiquette.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:38 pm
Mon June 24, 2013

Patty Griffin: Tiny Desk Concert

Denise DeBelius NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:25 pm

Patty Griffin has always had a gift for locating a song's nerve endings; for surveying her subject matter and identifying the most efficient possible pathways to listeners' emotions. Her warm, wise voice is comforting, inviting and relatable, even — perhaps especially — as she tackles weighty subjects like middle age and the death of a parent.

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All Songs Considered
11:03 am
Thu June 20, 2013

The Good Listener: How Do You Pick The Songs For Your Wedding?

Don't let a slow, introspective song crash your wedding reception.
Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Originally published on Tue July 9, 2013 12:11 pm

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All Songs Considered
1:30 pm
Thu June 13, 2013

The Good Listener: For Music-Festival Rookies, A Survival Guide

If you're going to Bonnaroo this weekend, as these folks did back in 2010, you could use a few tips.
NPR

Originally published on Thu June 13, 2013 5:26 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the American Girl catalogs we never ordered is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how first-time music-festival attendees can survive and thrive in an overwhelming setting.

Kendall Levinson writes: "Any advice for a young person going to his or her first music festival this summer? Any tips for preparation or survival would be appreciated."

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:28 pm
Mon June 10, 2013

The National: Tiny Desk Concert

Hayley Bartels for NPR

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 10:43 am

The first thing you might notice about this video is the change in surroundings: NPR recently moved to a new building, and though we worked to make the Tiny Desk as visually similar as possible to the old space — a process we recently documented with the help of OK Go — the ceilings are higher, the square footage more generous and the surfaces lavishly unsullied.

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All Songs Considered
2:03 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

The Good Listener: How Do You Describe The Music You Love?

So you like Dawes. How do you explain the band's appeal to your friends?
Noah Abrams Courtesy of the artist

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All Songs Considered
12:54 pm
Thu May 30, 2013

The Good Listener: What's More Important, Lyrics Or Music?

Which is more important: The word "Hallelujah" or music that says "Hallelujah" on its own?
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu June 6, 2013 2:05 pm

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All Songs Considered
12:28 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

We Get Mail: What's A Modern Music Snob To Do?

Even music snobs can find some common ground.
Diesel Sweeties

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 12:32 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the booklets of money-saving coupons we use to light kindling in the fireplace is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips for obsessive music fans in an age of instant online gratification.

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Live in Concert
12:41 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

First Listen Live: Queens Of The Stone Age, '...Like Clockwork'

Queens Of The Stone Age live at The Wiltern on May 23.
James Bailey for NPR

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 10:17 am

Queens of the Stone Age's first album in six years follows an unusually chaotic stretch for the band: Lineup and label changes, frontman Josh Homme's lengthy stint in the hit supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, and what Homme calls "a manic year" all inform the brooding, stormy sound of ...Like Clockwork.

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