Considered the largest open air market of any American city, Chicago's Maxwell Street Market was one of the most fascinating chapters in American urban history from the early 1900s through the 1960s. It was the landing place for a vast wave of immigrants, whether Europeans fresh off the boat, African-Americans escaping the South, or any number of other ethnicities. It was a non-stop carnival of merchants, hustlers, blues and gospel musicians, zany characters, prostitutes, bargain-hunting shoppers, a veritable kaleidoscope of humanity in all its guises and permutations.
The DVD includes Mike Shea's acclaimed 1964 film And This Is Free, an intimate slice-of-life film which captures all the characters and flavor of the Market, as well as Shuli Eshel's film Maxwell Street: A Living Memory, an engrossing look at the area's early days through the eyes of the Jewish merchants who worked at the Market, Rounding out the DVD is Maxwell Street Portrait, a newly produced animated show of captivating historic Maxwell Street photos, plus many other extras.
The CD provides an overview of blues that thrived on Maxwell Street going back to the 1920s from the itinerant street musicians up through the rise of electric Chicago blues. Legendary names such as Robert Nighthawk, Little Walter, Jimmie Rogers, J.B. Hutto and Daddy Stovepipe are some of the musicians featured, and many of the tracks are rare performances actually recorded on Maxwell Street.
Tying it all together is a 36-page booklet with "you-are-there" essays from writers who spent years working on Maxwell Street or delighting in its music and history. The slice-of-life approach behind everything included in the MultiPac is evoked by New York Times journalist Ira Berkow in the opening paragraph of his essay in the booklet:
"It was a carnival, it was a bazaar, it was, as some believed, a thieves' den; it was also home to snake charmers, a horse that could count with a clop of his hoof, an assortment of con men, blues musicians, the self-styled King of hoboes, an "Indian chief" in war bonnet and penny loafers, honest businessmen, the ladies of the night(and morning and afternoon), Gypsies, Jews, Italians, Irish, Bohemians, Poles, Russians, Greeks, Latinos, Blacks. As well as the birthplace of a number of prominent Americans. And this, more or less, just for starters"
Taken together, And This Is Free: The Life and Times of Chicago's Legendary Maxwell Street is an irresistible, invaluable experience that will be treasured by those who remember Maxwell Street's golden era, and a revelation to those who never had the opportunity to experience Maxwell Street first-hand -- a doorway to a vanished place and time.
The Maxwell Street Foundation will offer advance copies of the MultiPac for sale at its booth at the Chicago Blues Festival June 5 - 8 prior to the nationwide release on June 10. It is now available nationwide at all major retailers (Borders, Barnes and Noble). The suggested retail is $29.98 in case you need that piece of information.