Marine veteran-turned musician Scooter Brown was giving a magazine interview when the journalist asked him to describe himself.
After thinking a minute, he replied, “I guess I’m kind of a war hippie. I’m a combat veteran, but now I’m long-haired and into natural remedies and meditation and live on a six-acre plot in the country and do my own thing. I want peace and love and kindness for everybody. But if you try to take that from me, I’ll stick an axe in your face.”
Fast forward to January 2021, when Brown officially formed a country rock duo with former soldier-turned musician Donnie Reis. Their name? War Hippies.
“Donnie and I have such an eclectic taste in music, so we listen to everything under the sun,” Brown said. “We just love and appreciate music and the individual art that comes out of it.”
That love and appreciation — alongside years of hard work — has brought War Hippies to tours with country superstars and a debut single music video that reached No. 1 on The Country Network’s Top 40 chart.
“I like everything from Michael Jackson to Trisha Yearwood and just about everything in between,” said Reis, an elite violinist who served in a combat engineer battalion. “I’ve probably listened to 50,000 hours of music.”
Both Reis and Brown sing on each track, taking turns with melody and harmony, while playing guitar and violin between the two of them.
Reis also plays the piano, and a drummer joins in for a full band sound when needed. The video for their song “Killin’ It” has been featured as a top video for CMT.com.
Combined, the friends have 25 years of touring experience and more than 20 million streams.
But before Nashville, their commonalities started with military service. In 2003, Brown left the Marines after serving in a light armored reconnaissance battalion. Reis, meanwhile, turned down a college music scholarship to enlist in the Army after 9/11, eventually leaving in 2009. Both saw time in Iraq.
“When you face your own mortality and are living on borrowed time, you think about things differently,” Reis said. “You can hear a lot of reflection about combat in some of our music.”
“That’s the biggest thing I walked away from the military with,” said the married father of four. “To be thankful for the time that I have to try to pursue something I love, because I saw how fast life can be taken away.”
Brown and Reis both returned home and began successful music careers. Brown debuted at the Grand Ole Opry, recorded with Charlie Daniels, toured with Travis Tritt and was named to Rolling Stone’s “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know.” Reis became the owner of a recording studio, launched a violin line and achieved 26 Billboard Top 10s and four songs on the Billboard 200 chart.
Their friendship began at a 2019 video shoot in Nashville, followed by some social media chatting.
“Hey, I’m a combat vet, too, and I have a studio,” Reis wrote to Brown. “You should come over and visit.”
The two hit it off immediately and released their debut single and album in 2022, with big plans for the future — both on and off stage.
Besides making music, Brown and Reis love giving back to their military brothers and sisters. Brown is a co-founder of Base Camp 40, an outdoor adventure nonprofit for veterans. Reis volunteers with the Nashville Task Force for the Special Operators Transition Foundation.
Brown, a lifelong outdoorsman, noticed military members returning from combat with intact bodies but broken souls. Base Camp 40 became a way to “just get people around a campfire to open up and tell some stories, to let go of some things they had bottled up.”
Reis, on the other hand, wanted to focus on educating civilians on the value that former special ops can offer their companies.
Grateful veterans line up at War Hippies’ gigs — Brown and Reis estimate they’ll play at least 100 concerts in 2023, in addition to filming a television show — to share their stories with two men who understand.
“I think it’s really cool that Donnie and I are able to use what we do as a platform to take any light that shines on us and hopefully reflect it onto the veterans community,” Brown said. “We always go to the merchandise booth afterward and sometimes stay two or three hours to shake the hands of every one of them in line.”
Sometimes, a fellow service member will even gift a War Hippie their dog tags.
“It’s that family that’s always there,” Brown said.