Sue Menhart's song "The Choice" celebrates a life shared

Peter M. Weber photo Sue Menhart and Kevin Clark laugh during a break at PWOP Studios in New London.

Sue Menhart married Kevin Clark on July 4, 1993, during the middle of a band gig at the Windjammer Hotel in Misquamicut. On the beach. In front of 1,000 people.

"With a justice of the peace and a microphone," she says, smiling.

Family and friends had been alerted to their plans and were seated throughout the audience. Once the rest of the crowd caught onto what was happening, "there was a lot of hootin' and hollerin'," she laughs.

The couple, who lives in Uncasville, first met when Kevin auditioned as drummer for Fantasy, the band Sue was playing in.

"He remembers that I had on pink terrycloth shorts," she laughs. "I remember that he rocked! He had to learn 60 songs in two weeks and he did."

Both were going through divorces at the time, so they got to know each other as friends, which gave Sue an opportunity to notice his other qualities. "He was very funny, very likable and very handsome," she says. Their first date was at Harkness State Park in Waterford.

Eighteen years, a sea of performances, and one daughter later, and Menhart finds herself in a state of reflection on her life, songwriting and marriage. The last song on The Sue Menhart Band's 2009 EP, "The Choice," is a tribute to Clark and their time together.

The simple, stirring refrain, in which Sue tells Kevin, "I chose you well," came to her out of the blue, she says.

"It was just a weeknight in the living room. He made a comment in support of something I was doing, for the millionth time. He has always supported everything I'd ever done, through raising a child together, every single stupid band I was ever in — he was always right there."

"And I looked at him and I just thought the words, 'I made a good choice,'" which turned into a song she completed over the next few weeks.

The video, which you can watch at www.suemenhart.com or on YouTube, is a moving montage of photographs of couples who have attended their shows over the years.

Though the ballad marks a departure from Menhart's blues and rock roots, "people seem to be responding to it more than anything else," she says.

Menhart wasn't always a songwriter. That changed after "a switch went off" in her head during a Bruce Springsteen concert in 2007.

"I thought, 'he's old, and I'm kind of old, so if he can do it, so can I,'" she says.

Actually, Menhart had written songs as a teenager, but reasons that since they were "the most horrible songs on the planet," they don't really count. One, she says, had the memorable refrain "I want you out of my life for good."

"I was 16," she shrugs and smiles.

Writing again as an adult, she says, was a very cathartic process.

"It started out as this mish-mash outpouring of feelings I'd been carrying around."

The Sue Menhart Band, with Menhart on vocals and guitar, Clark on drums, Dave Foret on bass, John Jeff on lead guitar, and Steve Pranulis on keyboards, released its first album, "Torn," in 2008. Don Bergeron has since replaced Jeff on lead guitar and Pranulis has also moved on. The "core four," as Menhart likes to call them — Bergeron, Foret, Clark and Menhart — are a fixture on the local music scene.

The songwriting on the first album "was rudimentary," she says. "But I did it."

She is working now, she says, to take her lyrics to a deeper place.

"I'm going for the hard subjects. I've always been kind of a party girl, but you get older and you realize there are only so many things you can worry about. And you think about what matters."

Menhart has been touched by the way people have responded to "The Choice."

"You know, I'm not trying to change the world with my songs. But if I can make someone feel something for three minutes, that's amazing."

Visit www.suemenhart.com for updated performance listings.

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