Folk traditions are alive and well in contemporary America; you just need to know where to look. Enter "soldier boy" into the video-sharing website YouTube and up pops a prime example: dozens of clips showing diverse youth dancing in a similar fashion to the song "Crank Dat" by Soulja Boy.
"Recently, we've been getting volunteers from the audience to come up and do" the soldier boy dance, says Dom Flemons, one-third of the band Carolina Chocolate Drops. "There are distinct regional differences in how it's performed. That's folk dancing."
The Drops -- a string band playing traditional music in the banjo-heavy style of the Carolinas' Piedmont region -- know a thing or two about folk traditions. The group works closely with mentor Joe Thompson -- a master-student relationship once common among folk musicians.
"He's not just throwing sheet music at them; he's passing along the music as part of an oral tradition," explains Barbara Leonard, artistic director of World City, a Music Center series of family-friendly concerts and workshops with a global bent.
Keeping with the folk -- and oral -- tradition, Leonard paired the Chocolate Drops with actor John O'Neal for a World City performance this Saturday. A seminal figure in American theater, O'Neal is well into his fourth decade as a writer and performer -- best known for his celebrated character, African American storyteller Junebug Jabbo Jones. And while Leonard has booked acts from places like Tuva and Peru, she says, "This one is equally as exotic. We in the U.S. often don't understand the traditions of our own people."
To help with that understanding, three workstations in the Music Center garden will offer concertgoers an opportunity to fashion a "wrap doll" from twigs and fabric, whip up a cardboard banjo ("It actually plays a note," Leonard promises) and work with felt quilt patterns originally designed as markers along the Underground Railroad.
And the performance itself will be participatory. O'Neal often calls upon kids in the audience to perform with him.
"Stories anchor our imaginations," says O'Neal. "Telling stories is how we remember the salient events in our lives and discover who we are."
JUNEBUG WITH THE CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS
WHERE: W.M. Keck Foundation Children's Amphitheatre at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.
WHEN: 11 a.m. Sat.
INFO: (213) 972-4396; www.musiccenter.org