STERLING – Julie Bernstein has come home.
The Sterling native often returns to her hometown, but the singer-songwriter never has played to her hometown crowd.
“Ever since I was a little, little girl, people have encouraged me – ‘You’re meant to do this!’ – and for the longest time, I kind of doubted that ... but I also knew it was true,” Bernstein said. “It was this inner tug of war; I know I was meant to do this, but I didn’t know if I ever would really do it.
“Once it was solidified in my heart and my soul ... I knew it was time to start with my people ... with my tiny church out in the country and then the rest of my community.”
Bernstein, formerly Julie Neahring, a 1992 graduate of Sterling High School, where her father taught more than 20 years, has been touring in Sterling since Friday. She gave two concerts at her childhood church, East Jordan United Methodist Church, as well as a show at Grandon Civic Center.
“It was amazing to realize their support is still there,” she said of the performances this past weekend. “It was more amazing than I thought it was going to be.”
She has one last appearance in Sterling, Thursday at Air Play Sports.
Bernstein, 39, the daughter of John and Barb Neahring of Sterling, has been involved in music since she was about 5. She took piano and sang all through school. She went to Augustana College on a scholarship and intended to earn a piano performance degree, but she never got a degree and instead set out on her own.
She has been writing songs since college. The then-20-something used music as a salve for the wounds of an abusive relationship.
“God really redeemed that hurtful, broken part of my life,” she said. “Music restored my heart.”
At first, Bernstein kept her original songs in a private journal. But soon, her husband, Matt Bernstein, pushed her to go public and share them.
Bernstein, a worship leader for a church in Charlottesville, Va., has put out three albums and is working on a fourth – all on a label she co-created. Her music is based on personal experiences and often is labeled as Christian or inspirational, although a fair amount is secular, too.
“I look at the way Jesus walked the road,” she said. “He didn’t talk to just one group of people. He hung out with everybody.”
Bernstein, who is calling this spate of concerts a homecoming tour, has one other gig in Illinois before she performs two nights in a row at a church in Wisconsin.
Julie (Neahring) Bernstein, formerly of Sterling, now of Charlottesville, Va., will perform original songs and some traditional favorites at a free concert at 7 p.m. Thursday at Air Play Sports, 115 E. Third St. in Sterling.
Copies of her first three albums will be available at the show.
Go to juliebernsteinmusic.com to hear samples of her music or for more information.