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 All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the weekly NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the 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, four cats 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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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

Originally published on Sun August 3, 2014 1:32 pm

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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Newport Folk Festival
9:03 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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