As a translator, Eileen Bernstein helps people relate to one another. As a songwriter, she tries to express the feelings and experiences we all share.
"I'm always focusing on what's around me and how I can use that in ways people can relate to," the Columbia-based multi-instrumentalist says.
On Friday, Aug. 8, an audience in Harford County will hear Bernstein's musical accounts of trial and triumph shortly before it revisits familiar classics penned by some of the most celebrated songwriters of the 1960s and '70s.
Bernstein holds the 5:30-6:30 p.m. slot at the Havre de Grace Seafood Festival. The headlining act, Three Dog Night, put together a formidable string of hits with their versions of songs by composers including Elton John, Harry Nilsson, Hoyt Axton, Randy Newman and Laura Nyro.
Bernstein's songwriting owes as much to contemporary country artists like Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift as it does to the pop pantheon.
Of course, the line between the two genres gets blurrier all the time. With country stars using layered vocals and distorted guitars while pop singers get twangier, it sometimes seems as though the only way to tell the difference is cowboy hats.
As Bernstein sees it, though, country music sets itself apart with storytelling and wordplay.
"Being a linguist, that attracted me," she says.
Bernstein, who got her master's in political science at George Washington University, speaks Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese.
"The common thread running through country music is that's honest and true-to-life," she says. "The greatest feeling I get as a songwriter is when someone tells me that one of my songs has touched them in some way, that it resonates with their life."
Bernstein's "Good Aim" hits the bulls eye for country flavor as the singer warns a friend that someone's encroaching on her turf:
There's a new girl at the office, and your man's caught her eye
She brings him cafe mocha every morning right at nine
Then struts by in her mini-dress about a half a dozen times
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I hope he's not a player, but she's stepping up her game ...
She aims to please, and she's got good aim
Bernstein says she approaches songwriting much as an author might a short story. "I usually have a title in mind to write around. Then I come up with the characters and a plot line," she says. "At the same time, in the back of my mind there's a tune playing. Once I've got the story, then I flesh out the tune."
She studied piano as a child and began composing at a young age, partly in response to being bullied. "Writing songs was my refuge," Bernstein says.
As a grown-up songwriter, she is still honing her craft, even while nurturing other composers as the chapter coordinator and events coordinator for the DC/Virginia chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Eileen Bernstein plays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8 at the Havre de Grace Seafood Festival. Live entertainment for the free outdoor festival in the city's downtown area begins at 3 p.m. with the Runaway Train Band. A ticketed concert featuring Three Dog Night, along with Mallory Hope and Baltimore's School of Rock, begins at 7 p.m. The festival continues through Sunday, Aug. 10. For additional information or concert tickets, go to hsseafoodfestival.org.
On Saturday, Aug. 9, Bernstein performs from 11 a.m. to noon at the Poolesville Music and Arts Festival, held at Whalen Commons Park, 19701 Fisher Ave. For more information, go to facebook.com/PooMAFest.