Music has been an integral part of the South by Southwest experience dating back to 1987 when the festival debuted. Legendary names from Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson and The B-52’s have taken the stage at the Austin, Texas, festival over the years, and this year will be no different (SXSW Music officially kicked off Monday). But this year, the festival also featured a new kind of performance.
Only 150 or so SXSW attendees got to experience the full performance of British-German composer Max Richter’s eight-hour epic, Sleep, and Adweek was lucky enough to score one of the coveted spots.
Sleep comes to SXSW
At 12:13 a.m. on Tuesday, Richter took the stage at Bass Concert Hall in Austin, and over the next eight hours, he played his melodic, lullaby-inspired piece, accompanied by a five-piece band and a vocalist. All 3,000 seats in the three-tiered concert hall were empty (save for a few lucky SXSW badge-holders who were allowed into the space for two hours). Instead, the stage was packed with roughly 150 twin-size Beautyrest beds, complete with branded pillows, blankets and silk eye masks.
So, while music fans and influencers were treated to a striking performance of Sleep, they were also given the opportunity to do just that—sleep. And not by sitting back in a slightly uncomfortable folding chair in a concert hall, but on a cushy Beautyrest bed surrounded by 149 complete strangers (and a crew of photographers, videographers and sound experts).
The mattress brand originally heard about Richter and his sleep opus from Universal Music Group and Brands (a partner for Beautyrest on this SXSW activation). When Beautyrest figured out there was potential to partner with Richter, it jumped at the chance.
“When we heard about this concert and what [Richter] does in terms of his sleep concerto, we thought about all the things we do,” said Warren Kornblum, chief marketing officer at Serta Simmons Bedding. “At Beautyrest, we talk about ourselves as not just being a mattress company, but a sleep company. We are leaning into innovation and enabling people to sleep better—to help them, as opposed to just selling mattresses—and when we heard about this, it seemed like the perfect fit.”
A glimpse into Sleep
Hours before the performance was set to begin, a line of more than 50 people shot around the concert hall. All were eager for the chance to experience the once-in-a-lifetime concert. Because of the high demand, 100 music fanatics were allowed into the auditorium, so there was some extra commotion from the gallery before Richter’s arrival. The 100 lucky fans were asked to leave the auditorium at 2 a.m.
For those lucky enough to score a spot on stage, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Richter and his accomplices were positioned in the middle of the stage, with beds radiating out from front to back and into the wings. At the very back of the stage, a photo of a bright moon was projected onto a screen to set the mood, while dreamy projections of clouds filled the walls around the stage.
“This is going to be the coolest fucking thing ever,” one young woman screamed to a friend on a nearby bed, as all 150 of us made our way to our own beds to settle in for the night.
As midnight approached, many people changed into their comfy clothes, snapped selfies and shots of the stage, got under the covers, fluffed their pillows and awaited Richter’s arrival on stage.
“Here comes Sleep,” Richter told the audience. “We will see you on the other side.”
I managed a solid two hours of sleep during the perfomance with another hour or so weaving in and out of consciousness, which seemed to defeat the brand’s purpose for being there—mainly that it wanted millennials and Gen Zers to link Beautyrest mattresses with a better night’s sleep and feeling more awake, as a result, during the day.
“We want to talk with people rather than at them,” Kornblum said. “The mattress industry has done a lot of talking at people and now it should be about having a conversation. We don’t have to convince people that sleep is good. We just have to convince them that a night sleep on our mattresses might be better.”
Some people immediately strapped on their silk black Beautyrest-branded eye masks within minutes of Richter playing the first note. Others lay on their backs, staring up at the purple lights casting a midnight glow above the mattresses. Some rested on their sides, propped up on elbows, facing Richter and his support team, while others sat cross-legged as if they were meditating. Some slept, some were restless, some weaved between the beds and some stayed awake for the full eight hours. Everyone seemed to get something different out of the show.
When Richter finally wrapped up the performance at 8:13 a.m., exactly eight hours after he began, all 150 or so audience members pulled off their covers, rolled out of bed and applauded.
Richter’s SXSW performance marked the artist’s first performance of Sleep in North America. Next, Richter will go on tour with the mattress brand in the U.S., starting in New York. The announcement is part of a larger campaign Beautyrest is launching called “Be More Awake.”
As for the 150 mattresses, those won’t go to waste. Beautyrest announced it will donate the beds to local charities.