Out & About

Ed Hamell doesn't know about downtime. For years he's kept a breakneck schedule of weeks on the road--just him, his car, and his guitar--driving from his home in New York to Chicago, and down to Austin, and east to Memphis playing shows at night and traveling days. Last March, after another car ran his off the road, this routine nearly killed him. He had to be cut from his car and was taken by helicopter to the emergency room. He broke three vertebrae and a wrist; he needed 52 staples in his head.

After almost a year of recovery, Hamell on Trial plays his first show Wednesday at Dan's Bar. It also serves as a warm-up for a show a coupla nights later in Austin during South By Southwest, the festival that years earlier earned him a contract with Mercury Records. (The label dropped him after two albums--1995's Big as Life and 1997's The Chord is Mightier than the Sword--as it was going out of business.) These are also the first dates of an unofficial "not dead yet" tour that continues with three weeks on the East Coast opening for Ani DiFranco. He toured with her last year after he self-released his third album Choochtown and before the accident. DiFranco recorded several of the shows for a live Hamell on Trial album she planned to release on her Righteous Babe label. But during his recovery, Hamell finished the live album himself so he could sell it once he started playing again.

Months ago, after years of touring continuously, Hamell was itching to perform . He says he's been going to his basement, plugging in his guitar, and playing for a few hours each day just to get ready when the time came. He doesn't feel like he's doing too much too soon though. "I'm going out with [DiFranco] on the East Coast, and those gigs are cake," he says. "You don't have to worry about drawing people because there's going to be 3-5,000 people in the room and they're up for the show. So the first three weeks of me getting back into it are going to be real sweet. After that we'll see what happens." Choochtown was just released in Europe, and it's doing so well that he'll probably schedule his first European tour soon. He also has a meeting with a director to run through a one-man play he wrote while laid up. He's not ready to quit playing music, but doing some theater could mean later rock shows might include plane tickets and hotel rooms, a comfort he'd enjoy after years of one-man hauls across the country. "Eddie Izzard's making 12 grand a night, six nights a week. He just leaves his hotel, hits the deli, and puts on his nylons to go to work. For me the next level would be not sleeping in my car."

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Shannon Sutlief