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The combat veterans behind ‘War Hippies’ are changing the face of country music

Jessica Manfre Avatar

War Hippies frontmen, Donnie Reis and Scott “Scooter” Brown, are tearing up country music. And they both credit their time serving America for it all. 

Reis never intended to enlist in the Army, though he had a long family history of service. A violinist, he received a full-ride music scholarship to Miami University. Just as his sophomore year was beginning, everything changed. “I was the first person in my family to go to college. The day I watched the towers go down I went right to the dean and told him I was going to enlist,” he shared. 

Three years later, he was in Iraq with the First Infantry Division.

For Brown, the military was always his path and had grand plans of being a Green Beret. He was on a curb in 1999 waiting for a less than put together Army recruiter to return when he met the Marine Corps recruiter instead. “He was all jacked and had a perfect uniform,” he laughed.

He signed up to be a Marine before that Army recruiter ever returned. After a Middle East deployment in early 2001, it wasn’t long before he began preparing for war. “I was in Iraq during the initial invasion of 2003. I had every intention of staying in for 20 years and being a lifer. I was a scout with light armored reconnaissance in the Marine Corps and I was an 0311. I loved it,” Brown explained. But then I learned how to play guitar and although I had my reenlistment package turned in, I turned it down at the last minute to move to Texas to pursue music.”

Brown would go on to form the well-known Scooter Brown Band and be its lead singer for 15 years. During the same time, Reis had left the Army and was making a name for himself by playing violin for different bands and eventually opened his own studio in Nashville in 2018. The two combat veterans had interacted randomly at different events but never truly connected. Then, Reis saw a post on Brown’s social media in late 2021 looking for music acts to help a veteran-owned business. 

“I had never heard him play or his music. We’re sitting backstage and I asked him what we should play. He told me we should just wing it,” Reis laughed. 

brown and reis war hippies concert
War Hippies performance. (Photo courtesy of Brown and Reis)

They walked out without a plan, Reis with his violin and Brown with his voice and guitar. Though there were 27 acts that night, the duo was the only one to receive a standing ovation. They decided to start making music on the side, to see where it went. 

In 2022, they released an album. Though it’s filled with moving and hauntingly beautiful songs featuring Reis’ violin like Killin It, American Son and Warrior’s Farewell, Make it Out Alive in particular has touched a lot of people. 
“It was me making a promise to God, if I make it back home alive, man, I’m gonna try to live my best life. I want to pursue happiness to the best of my ability. I want to live and exude the freedom that our brothers and sisters gave their lives for,” Brown shared. “That it’s our mission, in my opinion, to our friends, our family and whoever it is to you, who died in the service of their country in combat. They didn’t die for us to come home and get lost in a bottle and pills or to take our own lives. They died for us to come home and pursue happiness for the idea of freedom. It’s our duty.”

War Hippies is independent, making it more challenging to get on mainstream radio. Make It Out Alive was just added to the iHeart Radio rotation. 

“Why country music?” was an easy question for them to answer. 

“Both of my parents were rockers but country music found me. I was probably in fourth or fifth grade and one of the first Garth Brooks albums was introduced to me by a friend that had just moved to Colorado from Iowa and he was a farm boy,” Brown said. “I fell in love with the storytelling, the songwriting.”

Reis echoed the sentiment. “One thing I’ve always loved about it is how unapologetically honest it is.”

As they reflect on where they’ve been and the future, both agree war changed them. “War turned me into a man. That experience and facing my mortality at such a young age, taught me how to listen. I didn’t know how to listen until I went through that,” Reis shared. 

war hippies concert
Photo courtesy of Brown and Reis

“Nothing will ever be harder than that. Nothing will ever be more stressful than war. Nothing will ever be crappier than having things blowing up and bullets going by wondering if you’re gonna live or die,” Brown said. “I was a hothead when I was younger but now I’d say war made me a gentle giant. After living through war, the stress of trying to lead and bring men home, everything after that’s easy. The music business is hard but it’s like, tell me no, I’m gonna just gonna keep pushing anyway.”

The War Hippies are hitting the road to tour and are excited share their music live with the country. You can also find their music on iTunes and Spotify.

brown and reis war hippies
Photo courtesy of Brown and Reis