Influential Music Promoter Launches Festival

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If you’ve attended concerts in South Florida with any degree of regularity over the past 20 years, you’ve probably breathed the same oxygen as Steve Rullman more than once.

(Photo by Ates Isildak)

An influential musician-turned-promoter with a Palm Beach County focus, Rullman has booked acts at Respectable Street in West Palm for nearly 10 years, helped to open and brand Lake Worth’s Propaganda, and promoted the local music scene during editorial stints at Closer magazine and the Palm Beach Post. Though he’s too humble to admit it, he’s a central figure in South Florida’s emergence as a fertile breeding ground for indie music.

But it’s his print-based baby about which he’s proudest. In 2011, he launched PureHoney, an inky monthly zine filled with an exhaustive concert calendar and succinct previews of important artists and events coming to town. Its central feature is a 22-by-34-inch color poster folded into the middle of each magazine.

As the mostly solo operator of PureHoney and its attendant website,purehoneymagazine.com, Rullman’s labor of love has now lasted five years and 60 issues—a longer run than skeptics might have given it in a digital age, and proof positive that print isn’t dead. He’ll be celebrating this anniversary Saturday night with an inaugural festival, Bumblefest, featuring 23 South Florida bands and headliners The Stargazer Lilies, an underrated Pennsylvania trio whose gauzy sound harkens back to pioneering shoegaze acts like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive and harmonic girl groups like the Shangri-Las.

Arriving just a week after Respectable Street’s own all-night block party last weekend, Bumblefest runs from 6 p.m. until about 4 a.m. Sept. 17 at five stages—two at Respectable Street and single stages at Hullabaloo, Subculture Coffee and O’Shea’s Irish Pub. Admission for everything is a $5 donation, which benefits two charities and helps cover the festival’s expenses.

“If you’re stuck in a rut musically or just seem to keep doing the same old thing every weekend, come to Bumblefest!” Rullman urges. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of the bands before. One of the things I love most about going to smaller festivals is the ability to get up close and really check out bands I’ve never heard of. That lightning bolt of discovery can be extremely inspirational.”

Boca Raton caught up with Rullman this week for more about Bumblefest, his mold-breaking publication, the South Florida music scene and more. 

I see PureHoney as filling a void in this market. I don’t know of another place, for instance, that has such a comprehensive list of shows for a given month.

I think it could be fuller, but a lot of the other publications, digital or print, focus on a wide breadth of activities, whereas we focus more on the below-the-radar type activities for the most part—less mainstream, less commercial.

What does it take to put together this zine every month? Are you a one-man operation?

It’s mostly me, but I’m lucky to have some really good writers that are willing to contribute a little piece each month, and I’ve got four people that handle all the distribution. Three of the four are local musicians.

Does Pure Honey pay the bills, or do you supplement?

Yeah, you supplement it with credit cards! You gotta do what you gotta do sometimes.

Do you see the PureHoney website as being just as important as the zine, like two tentacles of the same octopus?

Since ‘98, I was doing stuff strictly online, [a website called] The Honeycomb. That was cool. When the Internet was first happening in the late ‘90s, that’s what people were interested in. Now we just have too much information coming at us through the Internet, and I think people are looking for something a little simpler to pick up, a nice easy read that shines a spotlight on something. Maybe it’s not a totally in-depth story, but they get a feeling for a current event or an artist that’s coming to town, and they get a quick glimpse. That was the intention from the get-go: It’s about what can we do to stimulate the local population to attend more shows and become more involved in the arts and music in South Florida.

And it’s well curated, too; you have writers who know what they’re talking about, and won’t preview just any band that’s coming to town.

I would liken it to, if you opened an art gallery, you’re going to try to curate it in a way that is enriching on some level. Enriching in the sense that you want to share the stuff you really love with other people, and that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing since I was a kid, sharing music with my friends in grade school. This is a quick digest way of reaching people, and it’s not always stuff I love, but you try to include a little bit of everything.

And speaking of visual art, you also cover some of that in Pure Honey. Was that always part of the goal, to be not just a music zine?

I think the two go hand in hand; it’s not one or the other. I like when the two arts collide on some level. One of the cool things about picking up an album or even a CD is you put the two together: You read the lyrics, you look at the artwork, you listen to the music.

And that’s what at risk of being lost…

Yeah, in these days, it’s, ‘download the mp3!’ Where’s the soul in that? I think the visual’s important. When I go to shows, I close my eyes, anyway. I don’t watch the band, unless there’s somebody in the band who’s a brilliant showman or maybe a light show or something extraordinary.

How is the live music scene generally in South Florida right now, compared with 10, 15 years ago?

I always say it goes in three- to five-year cycles, up and down. It gets really good for a little bit and then it tapers off as people move away or to school. It’s always needing to regenerate, and I think that’s partially in the demographics. It’s also in the way the state of Florida is laid out. We’re not able to be one college town in the middle of a state, where things can happen around that a hub. I think we’re on an upswing right now, though.

How did Bumblefest end up being scheduled a week after another large street festival in Clematis? Will that help or hurt you?

Ours was scheduled first, but [last Saturday] that was the only date that [Respectable Street block party headliner] Dan Deacon was available. It’s not ideal, but at the end of the day it’ll be a wash. Maybe we turned a lot of people on to our festival; we did a lot of promotion at that event.

How did you discover the headliners, the Stargazer Lilies?

They toured South Florida about two years ago, and I saw them at Churchill’s. I’ve been trying to get [Churchill’s] to advertise, and they keep saying they will, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Churchill’s books a lot of interesting acts, but I often don’t hear about them until after the show.

I’m constantly hearing from people ‘I had no idea that band was playing at the Culture Room, or Revolution Live.’ Those [and Churchill’s] are three places that are currently not advertising, and I know they would see a benefit from doing so.

Besides the Stargazer Lilies, are there other out-of-town acts on this bill?

No, this is mostly local. I think next year, after we see how this one goes, we’ll be able to draw some strong touring headliners. I’d like to see a third of the lineup be touring bands and then split the other two-thirds between the three counties or other parts of Florida. I’d like to see what we could do with this over a two-day weekend.

For full Bumblefest details, visit facebook.com/events/1009446709171250/. Four Bumblefest bands will be performing at 8 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) on Miami’s Jolt Radio; visit joltradio.org for more information.