The brainstorm was brilliant: On the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' legendary final performance atop the roof of their record label's London office building, Austin's Fab Four tribute band the Eggmen would play in the picturesque rooftop garden at Austin's new downtown public library.
The execution turned out to be as grand as the idea. Hundreds of Austinites took the elevators up to the library's sixth floor just before noon on Wednesday, eager to be part of the celebration. An overflow crowd meant that some watched a livestream on a lower floor, while countless others tuned in to the concert on the FM dial or online via KOOP, the local radio station that sponsored the event.
Primary credit for the concept goes to Rush Evans, who hosts KOOP's weekly radio show "Off the Beatles Path." Evans said he and the Eggmen had discussed the possibility of a rooftop gig at KOOP's office two years ago, but the building's landlord nixed the plan.
When the new downtown library opened on Cesar Chavez Street last year, Evans knew he'd found the place. "I saw that patio and it just hit me: THIS is the rooftop," he said.
PHOTOS: Austin Public Library's rooftop Beatles concert with the Eggmen
Event staffers jauntily dressed as English bobby officers provided friendly oversight, asking attendees to please stay off the rooftop's garden grounds. Concrete standing areas to the north and west of the stage in the plaza's southeast corner provided plenty of room for the crowd.
The "stage," such as it was, had no real height to speak of, and so it was hard to see the band if you weren't up close. It hardly mattered, though: What counted was the spectacular view of the city from the rooftop, and the music that made history 50 years ago.
The Eggmen were right on point throughout the hourlong performance. They began with the five songs the Beatles played on the roof of Apple Corps on Jan. 30, 1969: "Get Back," "Don't Let Me Down," "I've Got a Feeling," "One After 909" and "I Dig a Pony." Sticking to the sequence seen in the film "Let It Be," they reprised "Get Back" again to end the rooftop portion of the set.
"I hope we passed the audition," Eggmen guitarist John Burgess added in conclusion, quoting the now-legendary farewell John Lennon uttered on the London rooftop that day. By then it was just 12:25 and the event was booked to run till 1 p.m., so the band stretched things out a bit with a handful of other late-era Beatles classic, including "Two of Us," "Revolution," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes the Sun." The inevitable crowd-sing-along with "Hey Jude" brought to mind thousands singing with Paul McCartney last fall in Zilker Park at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Joining Burgess were bassist Ronn Roberts, guitarist John Kovach, drummer David Fore and, in the role of Billy Preston, who accompanied the Fab Four on the roof a half-century ago, keyboardist Tom Burgess (guitarist John's brother).
Looking out across the river from the library's vantage point, it was easy to see the changes 50 years have brought. What was once Municipal Auditorium was now the Long Center, the gentle slope of Doug Sahm Hill rises where City Coliseum once stood, and the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue is a sentinel on the south bank of Lady Bird Lake. Still, far on the horizon is one view that would have looked exactly the same in 1969: the main building of St. Edward's University.
Evans was quick to credit KOOP for supporting his notion. "It's such a neat little radio station that we can do this sort of thing," he said.
Former library staffer and KOOP volunteer Kanya Lyons helped connect Evans with library personnel. "We had a few meetings with the library over the months, and they just couldn't have been nicer," said Evans. Everyone decided early on, he added, that "nobody's going to make money. We're just going to do it because we can."