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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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Tiny Desk Concerts
7:03 am
Mon August 6, 2012

Beth Orton: Tiny Desk Concert

Michael Katzif NPR

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 1:26 pm

English singer-songwriter Beth Orton is one of the best-known practitioners of a subgenre in which folk songs are set to electronic beats — it's a sound she employed to popular and powerful effect throughout the late '90s and early '00s, on hit albums such as Trailer Park, Central Reservation and Daybreaker.

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Newport Folk Festival
4:48 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 10:15 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
9:34 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 1:39 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
4:28 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 3:12 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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Tiny Desk Concerts
10:52 am
Mon July 16, 2012

The Milk Carton Kids: Tiny Desk Concert

Emily Bogle NPR

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 12:43 pm

The history of folk and pop music is littered with gorgeous intertwined voices: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, The Jayhawks' Mark Olson and

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Tiny Desk Concerts
12:11 pm
Thu July 12, 2012

Laura Marling: Tiny Desk Concert

Nick Michael NPR

Originally published on Thu July 12, 2012 12:43 pm

When Tom Jones performed at the NPR Music offices in 2009, it felt like an exercise in cruelty: His Tiny Desk Concert took a larger-than-life icon, a superstar for whom intimacy is implied but impossible on a huge stage, and shrunk him to where every bead of sweat could be seen. Young English folksinger Laura Marling, on the other hand, lives for that sort of intimacy.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
9:39 am
Mon July 9, 2012

Brandi Carlile: Tiny Desk Concert

Blake Lipthratt NPR

It's possible to place countless movies and TV shows within a very specific time frame based on whether they feature certain songs: Baja Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out," Smash Mouth's "All Star" and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' "Home" all provide a form of pop-cultural carbon dating, as well as signifiers of a tone that's both specific and universal.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
8:03 am
Mon June 4, 2012

Kelly Hogan: Tiny Desk Concert

Michael Katzif NPR

The reliable backup singer who seizes the spotlight is the stuff of entertainment-industry fairy tales, but Kelly Hogan hasn't actually had to labor in obscurity.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
10:31 am
Mon April 16, 2012

Soweto Gospel Choir: Tiny Desk Concert

The Soweto Gospel Choir performs a Tiny Desk Concert on February 14, 2011.
Kainaz Amaria NPR

Originally published on Tue May 15, 2012 9:33 am

Today in "They Pay Us To Do This": a performance by South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir, which managed to tie the all-time record for most musicians squashed behind Bob Boilen's desk for a single performance in the NPR Music offices.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
7:21 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

Kathleen Edwards: Tiny Desk Concert

Doriane Raiman NPR

Originally published on Thu April 5, 2012 10:07 am

Kathleen Edwards isn't a flashy singer-songwriter, but her music sticks: Easygoing and accessible, her songs burrow in deep and then stay put. Edwards' new album, Voyageur, wears a lot of sonic flourishes well — it was co-produced by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who lends it a lot of his distinct shadings — but at its heart lies a sort of unshakable sturdiness.

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