High notes, low notes

Kristy Jackson was down in the dumps after Sept. 11. But she found catharsis for both her sorrow and her adulation of heroism. Jackson expressed her feelings in a song about civilians thwarting terrorists — and scored a hit single in the process.

In a much-anticipated advanced-songwriting workshop coming up at the Flat Rock Music Festival, Jackson will teach the art of writing distinctive yet still commercial songs; she’ll also offer tips on making demo records and marketing.

She says she based her pop-country hit “Little Did She Know (She Kissed a Hero)” on Jeremy Glick, who apparently helped crash hijacked United flight 93 before it reached its Washington, D.C., target.

Glick told his wife by cell phone that he and other passengers were about to revolt against their captors. That’s the last she heard from him.

“I was inspired by the heroes of flight 93,” Jackson said in a recent interview. The pianist/singer will also perform at the acoustic, eclectic festival, held at Camp Ton-a-Wandah, on Saturday — eight months to the day since the Sept. 11 attack. She wrote the song on Sept. 23, 12 days after the airliners smashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“I was struggling through my own grief at the time,” she explains. “Writing has always been my outlet, so it came out in a song. I first reflected on how my husband and I start our mornings.” Alone at her keyboard, she wrote the song in 45 minutes. She later recorded the demo in a single take after attending a church service for veterans in Nashville.

At Flat Rock, she’ll probably also sing her bluesy, tell-him-off “Take it Back” (a song that recently went multiplatinum for country diva Reba McEntire). “Little Did She Know” thrust Jackson’s own voice into the national spotlight, becoming the most-requested song on three New York City stations. She performed it live on CBS’ Early Show and got a standing ovation Dec. 2 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. She’s also been featured on Inside Edition and other TV shows.

Jackson sent the CD to the families of flight 93 victims, and she sings it for free at communities’ Sept. 11 memorials. The artist says she’s donating half of the CD’s net proceeds and all the songwriting radio royalties to relief efforts.

The 46-year-old tunesmith has been penning songs since she was five. As a producer, she recently used Willie Nelson as a guest artist. She also teaches songwriting at a community college near Greensboro.

A hit, says Jackson, needs three essential ingredients: “simplicity in form, originality in lyric, and cutting great demos.” She’ll teach “lyric tricks that make your songs more commercial,” such as “modulating choruses to break up verses.” Demos must sound “clean and have an awesome vocalist,” says Jackson. So-so singers should write hits for others, using a better singer on demos, she advises. Some producers hear a basic production’s potential, she says, while others “need all the bells and whistles.

“It depends,” she admits, “on who you’re pitching to.”

Kristy Jackson teaches an advanced-songwriting workshop at the Flat Rock Music Festival on Saturday May 11 at 12 noon.

Festival information

The Flat Rock Music Festival happens Friday May 10 through Sunday May 12 at Camp Ton-a-Wandah in Flat Rock, N.C., about 40 minutes south of Asheville off I-26.

Headliners are Sam Bush, Stacey Earle, Loudon Wainwright III and Acoustic Syndicate. Local acts include the Laura Blackley Band, Sons of Ralph, Ghost Mountain, Jimmy Landry, Michael Farr and the Greasy Beans.

The festival offers workshops in beginning songwriting, advanced songwriting, harmonica, mandolin, finger-picking, flat-picking, slide guitar and contra dance, as well as open jams, fire-circle songs, storytelling, a children’s craft area, buffets, vendors, camping, boating and swimming.

Mothers get the VIP treatment on Sunday May 12, getting in free for Mother’s Day with a paying family member (mothers also enjoy half-price buffets on Sunday). Adult daily passes cost $30/Friday, $35/Saturday and $10/Sunday. A $65 weekend pass includes camping. Youths 11-17 get in half-price; kids 10 and younger get in free.

For details on tickets, a complete schedule of performers, and volunteering opportunities, call (828) 692-2005 or check out www.flatrockmusicfestival.com.

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