Foursome infuses rock and country into their beloved genre’s traditional sound

By Lynn R. Parks
Photograph by Scott Nathan
From the June 2022 issue


There’s not much bluegrass-y about rock legends Queen and Guns N’ Roses. But that hasn’t prevented the local group Homestead Bluegrass from adopting a couple of those bands’ songs as part of their repertoire. 

“We don’t play all traditional bluegrass,” says banjo player and singer Casey Kenton, who lives in the Rehoboth Beach area. “We are all acoustic, of course. But we play a wide variety of music, and I think that that’s what makes us unique.”

That includes Queen hit “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, as well as the occasional song by Jerry Garcia and his classic group. “People in the audience don’t expect to hear us sing a Grateful Dead song in bluegrass style,” says upright bass player Dawn Thompson, an Oak Orchard resident and one of four members of the band. “And it’s kind of neat to see their reactions when we start out. They’re like, ‘That’s really cool.’”


“It’s kind of been our goal to introduce bluegrass music to a non-traditional audience,” says guitarist Shawn Rineholt. “What we like to do is take a bunch of traditional bluegrass songs, and also top 40 songs, country and rock songs, and mix them in and play them in a bluegrass fashion. The crowd’s response is through the roof. They really enjoy hearing stuff that they know being played with a banjo, guitar and bass.”

That pleasure extends to traditional bluegrass’s two- and three-part singing, adds Kenton, who notes, “We pretty much wing our harmonies, our own arrangements.”

To Rineholt, the crowd’s reaction makes all the difference in performing: “I love the audience, especially when they get involved and start dancing.”

Homestead Bluegrass has been playing in the coastal Sussex area for about five years. Kenton and Frankford-area resident Rineholt both work for Investors Realty, a Dover-based company that develops and manages communities (including the Homestead Campground near Harbeson, for which the band is named) and storage facilities. “We started working together and then jamming together,” says Kenton, who has played the banjo since he was a teen. “I knew some people and Shawn knew some people, and we basically just kind of burst into a band.”

The group performs every two to three weeks at a variety of local venues including Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats in Rehoboth Beach, Salted Vines, a vineyard and winery near Frankford, and Bethany Blues on Route 1 near Midway. On June 27, the band will perform at the West Rehoboth Creative Market, sponsored by the Developing Artist Collaboration. 

Homestead also plays at several regional bluegrass festivals. Kenton, Rineholt and Thompson met their newest bandmate, mandolin player Steve Havrilla, last spring at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival in the historic Pennsylvania town. 

“I was sitting at the campsite with the family, and I told my wife, ‘I’m going to take a walk,’” Havrilla remembers. “I just grabbed my mandolin and started walking, and there’s Casey, yelling, ‘Come on over!’ I didn’t know these guys at all and we ended up playing all weekend. On my ride home from the festival, he gave me a call and said that he wants to have me play as many shows with them as I can.

“It was almost as if we’d been friends forever, not just strangers meeting in a campground for the first time.”

Thompson, who started playing bass guitar with her dad’s country band in Florida when she was just 11, says that that love of bluegrass is the glue that holds Homestead together. “We’ve got four very different people, in different walks of life, who come together to play music,” she notes. “But we all have the same passion for the music.”

“If we didn’t have day jobs, I could play every night,” Kenton adds. “Music is such a fun thing. And the bond that you create with people you play music with, I don’t think that it can be replicated anywhere.”

Havrilla, also a member of a South Jersey bluegrass band The Twisted Timbers, lives in Gilbertsville, Pa., about a 2½-hour drive (two hours if traffic is light) from coastal Sussex. He doesn’t mind the regular trips to make the gigs. “There’s this love of bluegrass,” he says. “It creates such a bond among players and among fans, people of all ages and from all walks of life, and once you fall in you just don’t fall out. It doesn’t let you go.”

A history buff, Havrilla says that the genre connects him with the past. 

“I find myself thinking about the ones who have come and gone,” he says. “My grandparents, and the simple way of life, the country lifestyle. It’s a warm, happy connection.”

In addition, “I’m a lyrical guy,” he says. “I love lyrics, and I love songs that have meaning. I feel like bluegrass songs definitely have meaning. It’s real hard these days for some people to stop and listen. We’re all wound up in our phones, and our world, and our politics. And we just don’t always stop and listen to these songs, and the stories that they tell. I’m a big fan of bluegrass, because I love the stories in the songs.” n

Lynn R. Parks is a frequent contributor to Delaware Beach Life.