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Fresh off appearance on 'Prairie Home Companion,' Sturgill Simpson surprises class of 2014

May 19, 2014 at 7:10 am

The Beloit College community has a thing for turtles. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Sturgill Simpson and his band showed up at the college’s 164th Commencement ceremony on Sunday to play their latest, “Turtles All the Way Down.”

But it was a surprise-- to nearly everyone.

Lured to campus by the college’s president, the band made a stop at Wisconsin’s oldest college to kick off Beloit’s 11 a.m. commencement ceremony with the song, which they’d been performing at stops in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Appleton, Wis., in recent days.

President Scott Bierman made contact with Simpson’s management after Professor Pablo Toral heard the band perform their latest single on last week’s Prairie Home Companion radio show and alerted Bierman.

The infinite turtle theory (“Turtles all the way down”) is a theme on the campus, where turtles are commemorated on ancient Indian mounds and are known as the college’s unofficial mascot. The idea was also the main - and resonating - feature of Bierman’s inauguration speech back in 2009 where he reminded the college of its rich history and the role each student and graduate plays in the life of the others (video--see the 28:10 minute mark).

The theme of Simpsons’ song, then, was as appropriate as its title for Bierman.

As a result, Bierman quietly hunted online for Simpson’s management, rifled off a long email about turtles and the campus’ personality, and was able to land a phone call with the band’s representative on Tuesday. With Beloit conveniently located along the highway that would deliver the band home to Nashville, Tenn., after Friday and Saturday shows in Wisconsin, the band agreed to the invitation.

Simpson said the president’s email, and the band’s proximity to the college, made the decision easy. As for Bierman, he gave another reason when introducing the surprise entry into the day’s program saying they’d come “Because they are far more Beloitish than they ever knew.”

“They are doing us a huge favor, and they are delaying their trip home to do it,” he told the more than 1,200 people who had gathered on the campus’ main lawn for the ceremony.  

Footage of the surprise performance is available online (18 minute mark).