2018-05-31 / Front Page

Air Force Reservist hits high note with music venture

BY RYAN GIBBS


BRINE BRINE An organization co-founded by a Bryer Avenue airman is setting the stage for military members to pursue their musical dreams.

Operation Encore, a collaboration of musicians connected to the armed forces, provides money, training and technical assistance for their members to record music and book concerts.

Erik Brine, a U.S. Air Force Reservist living in town while he attends the Naval War College, said the organization received big news last month when it was given 501(c)(3) nonprofit status by the IRS. Co-founded by Brine in 2014 with fellow airmen Rob Raymond and Chris Kurek, the Operation Encore roster consists of 24 acoustic musicians performing in country, folk and indie rock.

“This is a great way to share the experience of being a military member … through the powerful medium of music,” Brine said.

Brine, a native of New Jersey, is a lieutenant colonel who has lived in Jamestown for a year. He has been in the Air Force since 2000, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a C-17 pilot.

The roots of Operation Encore started in Washington, D.C., where Raymond and Brine were stationed together before their reassignment to Arizona. Along with his military service, Brine was working as a defense fellow for U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, and also founded a veterans’ organization at Georgetown University while earning his master’s degree in public policy.

“We were surprised about how little was understood about veterans’ policy and issues, even by lawmakers who were funding programs,” Brine said. “We wanted to continue to get more involved.”

Founding fathers

Looking for a new program to benefit veterans, Brine and Raymond focused on their mutual love for music, and brought Kurek into the fold when they moved to Phoenix. Brine is not a musician, but Raymond and Kurek had performed together for several years under the name Dos Gringos.

During their time in the Air Force, the men had met cohorts who played music on the side, or who had brought their guitars with them during deployment. They decided to create a way for soldiers, sailors, airmen and veterans, along with their spouses, to share their talents.

“They were really great musicians, but that wasn’t their fulltime job,” Brine said. “They’re military members.”

Brine and his friends also wanted to create an organization that bridged the gap between service members and civilians by creating a new perception through their music. As they strayed from their tight-knit military community, they realized there was an outside world that didn’t know much about them.

“The military is less than 1 percent of the population these days,” he said. “We’d meet people who didn’t know any veterans.”

After finding musicians on the Internet who fit their bill, the airmen began raising money through Kickstarter in April 2014 for a compilation album to introduce Operation Encore. The campaign raised $17,000, which financed the entire project, including flights to Phoenix to record their songs. The album was released that September. Two years after their debut compilation, they started another Kickstarter campaign for a second volume, which raised $25,000. The men also began reaching out to music venues to book concerts for their members.

Veterans exemptions

Operation Encore initially was launched as a record label in 2014, but the founders did not intend for it to be a profitable venture. They applied for nonprofit status last year and received approval May 14.

“We wanted to make sure the artists didn’t have to pay for anything,” Brine said. “We try to make sure that when our folks play anywhere, they never have to pay out-of-pocket to play. We’re setting them up with a gig that is going to pay them to come out to play, or we’ll offset the cost and pay for them to fly out.”

For example, some of their musicians are performing at the Bohemian Nights festival in Colorado this summer. The organization was instrumental in getting them booked, and also will cover their travel and lodging expenses.

They also finance studio time for their members to record EPs, which are musical recordings popular with unsigned artists that contain more tracks than a single but fewer than a full-length album. Brine said this gives the musicians a body of recorded work to shop to record labels.

Operation Encore currently is based in Arlington, Va., owing to its Washington, D.C., roots, but it serves Americans around the world. Brine said the new nonprofit status will make it easier to fundraise, connect with other charities and discover veterans who want to turn their musical hobbies into a side career.

“We kind of have a very interesting model,” he said.

While Operation Encore offers a “really intense and specific experience” to a small number of people, “what they produce has the ability to have an impact on thousands,” Brine said.

One of those musicians is singer-songwriter Rachel Harvey Hill, the only military spouse on the roster. She has been involved with Operation Encore since its founding. Her song, “Another Trip Around the Sun,” appeared on the first compilation CD. Hill said the most important thing about Brine’s group is that it allows her to keep in touch with other musicians while her family moves around the country.

“Sometimes it’s difficult,” she said. “You might move somewhere where there’s not even a strong musical community. Operation Encore is providing a consistency for me.”

Hill said the musicians in Operation Encore schedule a virtual open mic every month so they can bounce ideas off of one another and get feedback.

“It’s helping me grow as a songwriter and musician,” she said.

Hill will soon become Operation Encore’s first musician in Rhode Island. Her family is moving to Jamestown from Georgia while her husband, Ryan, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, attends the Naval War College. In anticipation of her arrival, Brine said Operation Encore is working to schedule concerts for Hill, hoping to get her booked at the Narragansett Cafe.

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