Steve Rullman on Music’s Comeback, His Life-changing Time in Quarantine

When I want an insider’s take on the South Florida music scene, one name generally springs to mind: Steve Rullman, who has worked with countless clubs and festivals as a promoter and booker for 30 years, and who has been publishing PureHoney, the tri-county region’s preeminent music zine, for nearly nine years.

I wanted to get Rullman’s perspective on the uncertain future of live music, how South Florida venues shuttered from the coronavirus pandemic might rebound, and how Rullman himself has fared, economically and personally, with the temporary suspension of all live events. I didn’t expect to find him in such optimistic spirits.

“I’m not missing [concerts] yet,” he says. “A lot of people I know are. For me, this pause has been a really positive thing. … As a society, we’re just rushing, rushing, rushing, day in, day out. Technology was supposed to save us from that, but it’s only made things worse. Our society is constantly running—everything is going way too fast, and as a species, it’s crucial that we slow down and breathe, and realize that life doesn’t need to be this way. Technology and capitalism are not going to save us. We need to think more about community and creating personal spaces for ourselves, our friends, our family, our community, that are rich beyond all the other stuff-for-profit that is happening in the world.”

For decades, Rullman has lived the bustle he now critiques. He estimates he was putting in 70 to 85 hours a week working for Voltaire, the West Palm Beach club he had been involved with since its 2017 inception; publishing the monthly PureHoney zine; and programming his own annual festivals, like Bumblefest in September. A voracious attendee of live music, he was in San Francisco in early March for a Slumberland Records concert—to check out bands like Papercuts, Terry Malts and Kids on a Crime Spree—when early jitters of the pandemic were beginning to be felt on U.S. soil.

But he was also ready for a shift. He had just parted ways with Voltaire, whose owners made the decision to switch to a primarily DJ-driven direction. “I just feel like I’ve put a lot into this, and maybe I should consider doing something a little different, just for a change.”

Weeks later, COVID-19 forced Rullman’s hand: He had to pull the April edition of PureHoney, which featured previews for concerts that were no longer happening, and could no longer be distributed in venues that were shuttered. He suddenly had copious time on his hands, and the nearly three months that South Florida has been in full or partial lockdown have been literally life-changing. He has adapted to a plant-based diet, has found his zen tending his yard, and finds himself going on 30-mile bike rides.

“I honestly feel like I’m becoming who I used to be, roughly 20 years ago,” he says. “I’ve got more energy, I’m happier… I’m realizing my life can be whatever I want it to be. I don’t have to keep doing what I’ve been doing my whole life. I can expand and try something different if I want to.”

Natalee Miller, a featured artist in the latest edition of Pure Honey

Vestiges of the old life are gradually humming back to life. PureHoney just published its first edition in two and a half months, its focus shifting toward profiles of graphic artists instead of bands coming to town. Live music has begun to trickle back in certain South Florida restaurant venues. But with the pandemic in the United States dragging on much longer than many originally anticipated, clubs and concert halls—which have given Rullman so much work over the decades—face a potentially dire future, even if permitted to open at a reduced capacity.

“Most venues are barely surviving as is, so anything that’s going to have an impact on the turnout is going to affect them,” he says. “Some will be able to stretch it out until things rebound and get back to where they were. But three of the [club owners] I reached out to said they don’t know if they can survive. They are seriously considering doing other things at this point.

“A lot of the venues, promoters, publicists, bands, anyone affiliated with live music—a lot of them honestly are focused on the Black Lives Matter protests,” he adds. “It’s like, music can come later. This is more important. I see that over and over again. That’s a good sign; solidarity is important for people who love live music.”

This, of course, still includes Rullman, who says one thing will never change. “Music is still my greatest passion, and always will be. A great live show is church for me. I’ll never not want to go see an amazing band I’m in love with, and I’ll still put on shows from time to time. I just don’t feel like I need to be in a space where I’m putting on several shows every week, just to fill a calendar.”

Click here for the Spotify playlist for artist Natalee Miller, featured in the June issue of PureHoney.

Click here for Andrew McGranahan’s Protest playlist from PureHoney.

For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.