Driving into Maleny on a Monday night and this little country town in the hills of the Sunshine Coast hinterland is quiet. The Maleny Hotel has a few cars in the car park, the IGA Supermarket is host to a few late shoppers. Everything else on the main street is closed: except for a small cafe full of diners, light and noise, all of which spill out onto the footpath. It’s a strange contrast to the rest of the night. Drive for five minutes either way and the most activity you’ll see is cows sleeping in their paddocks.
What draws a lively crowd into this little cafe on a quiet Monday night?
Monday night is Blackboard night at the Upfront Club where musicians put their name down for a 15 minute appearance on a tiny stage and the diners are presented with a musical lucky dip. Professionals share the tiny stage with amateurs as the Club patrons dine, wine and applaud. Veterans of stage and tours alongside teenage debutants. The musicians’ efforts earn them a free meal and diners can put money in the hat that’s passed around to make a modest ‘prize’ for the best acts of the night.
As we arrive local guitarist Rob Longstaff is singing his song “Ghosts of the Chelsea Hotel”, before finishing his set with a raunchy, stomping number accompanied by his mate saxophone supremeo Lee Hardisty. Both of them have toured internationally and recorded; both call Maleny home.
Our meal tonight is a pumpkin and chickpea fritter, splashed with sour cream and served on a bed of green salad and beans. The menu is full of organic food and the display cabinet is full of amazing cakes. The staff, many of whom are volunteers, are kept busy taking meals out and bringing dirty plates back inside.
The musicians step up for 15 minutes of fame and the Club hums with music and conversation. Out the front on the footpath the tables are full as kids run around and adults stand and talk. Monday is the night many locals drop in to catch up and there is a lot of friendly chatter as the different acts come and go.
In less than two hours we’ve heard guitars, saxophone, trumpet, drums, harp, a Cittern and voices young and old singing everything from folk music to devotional mantras. Monday at the Upfront Club is the night to hear what an amazing musical community sounds like.