If work, traffic and unpredictable weather have you longing for an escape to the Caribbean, relief may be nearer than you think. Right here in Prince George's County, the Crossroads nightclub is an oasis of tropical music, food and culture.
Many consider the Bladensburg club -- which draws fans not only from neighborhoods across the county but also from the District, Baltimore and the Virginia suburbs -- the premier Caribbean music venue in the Washington area.
Like the county itself, Crossroads has seen many changes over the past decade. Before current owner and manager Alton Gayle took over, the largest part of the spacious three-in-one club was a country-and-western roadhouse. Local blues legend Roy Buchanan and his Snakestretchers were the house band for years, and they recorded their first album at the club in 1971.
But the horseshoe-shaped bar is history, and the hubcaps that once decorated it are nowhere to be found. These days, Crossroads has become a home away from home for Caribbean immigrants and other fans of the music. For Jamaicans and West Indians who have relocated to the Washington area and want to stay connected to their culture, the club has filled an important need.
"It's the closest thing to home," says Barry Hillocks, owner of the West Indian Record Mart, who moved from Jamaica in 1982 and now lives in Glen Burnie. "It's become the nucleus of Caribbean activity in the area."
Trinidad-born John Blake, who hosts the club's popular Caribbean happy hour and dance party on Friday nights, agrees. "Caribbean people are grateful to have a place where they can get together, have some space and keep in touch with their friends and their culture." And Blake is grateful to have another outlet for sharing the music he's showcased on his WHUR radio show for the past 27 years.
Although a significant number of Crossroads' regulars are immigrants from Jamaica and Trinidad, Blake says, others are from Barbados, Antigua, Guyana and other countries -- as evidenced by the national flags they wave proudly as they dance.
WPFW deejay Tony Carr, who moved from Jamaica 30 years ago and now lives in Adelphi, says he feels safer at Crossroads than at many other clubs. "It doesn't matter what race, color or nationality you are," he says. "You're going to feel comfortable here."
Crossroads has its share of regulars, but its live shows attract larger crowds. Although the club has a reputation for showcasing some of the top established reggae acts -- such as Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths and Beres Hammond -- Gayle looks for rising stars who will draw a crowd and for West Indian artists whom people can't see anywhere else. Blake and Hillocks credit Gayle for keeping an open mind about emerging acts and for "keeping his ear to the ground" to match his clientele's interests and tastes.
Crossroads provides plenty of music between its live shows. It's difficult to place the club's nightly musical offerings in neat categories; on any given evening, patrons can count on an eclectic mix of people and musical styles. The Carnival-like parties on Friday nights draw people of all ages, including many couples. Saturday nights, which have a heavier emphasis on reggae dance hall and rhythm and blues, attract a slightly younger, more stylish crowd. And on every other night except Monday, the crowd hears a little of everything -- from reggae and calypso to rhythm and blues and hip-hop.
An added attraction is the adjoining Crossroads restaurant, which features authentic Caribbean dishes such as curried chicken and goat, steamed snapper and fried plantains seven nights a week. Sunday's Caribbean American brunch is a good time to sample a little of everything while enjoying live pan jazz played on steel drums.
"For people who haven't been to the Caribbean, or for people who are planning to go there," Gayle says, "we try to give them an idea of what it's like."
-- Mark R. Miller, in The Washington Post, 2001.