Ten Sweet Years of PureHoney — How an indie-music junkie built a 'rad' underground 'megaphone'
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
THE PRESSES WERE about to roll at Stuart Web Inc. when production manager Chris Mineo sidled up to Steve Rullman.
“Ten years! Can you believe it?” Mineo said as he greeted his longtime customer in the company’s expansive Martin County warehouse.
Rullman, black ball cap pulled down to his black-rimmed eyeglasses, looked up from his smartphone and just grinned. The words on the front of his shirt spoke for him: “Never Say Die.”
Minutes later, a buzzer blared and the presses started rolling on the latest issue of PureHoney magazine.
As the man responsible for stirring the PureHoney pot every month, Rullman rarely has time to watch his passion project roll off the presses. He's busy enough hustling sponsors, assigning stories, designing the layout and lining up his distribution team, not to mention planning the magazine's annual music festival.
But this hot August afternoon is a special occasion.
It’s the 10th anniversary issue, a milestone worthy of a celebration for loyal PureHoney readers grateful that their sweet Little Print Paper That Could is still chugging along at a time when many print publications are careening off the cliff.
And if you haven’t seen or even heard of PureHoney, well, that sort of underscores why it has managed to survive.
Just about every month since its debut in September 2011, the slick little 'zine has cast a spotlight on hyperlocal underground music, art and topics usually ignored by mainstream magazines and newspapers.
It’s not the only alternative publication in South Florida. New Times, SFL Music Magazine and Dig Under Rock are among those with loyal followings, too.
PureHoney, though, is a different animal. “Different because you like it that way,’’ as an early motto said.
And it has a distinct personality.
From his front-row seat to South Florida’s underground music scene over the past 30 years, he built a reputation as a respected connoisseur of the best up-and-coming sounds.
With PureHoney, he has honed a keen and discerning sense of what to cover and what to leave to the other alternative media outlets.
And while his publication is available online, there’s really no substitute for the PureHoney print experience.
Printed on a single (and sometimes double) sheet, 22 inches by 34 inches, it folds down to 15 individual pages, each 8-½ by 11, neatly packed with short stories, ads and easy-to-read listings.
When a reader opens all 15 pages, the magazine folds out as a large poster of original artwork usually promoting concerts, events or artists.
It’s free, distributed at more than 250 locations from Martin to Miami-Dade counties in tidy grab-on-the-go stacks at places like Harold’s Coffee Lounge in West Palm Beach, Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale and The Fillmore in Miami Beach.
“As skinny and as little as that paper is, it’s really a megaphone,’’ artist Rolando Chang Barrero said as he picked up a copy from what was left of the stack at the register in his Box Art Gallery in West Palm Beach.
“They’re the publishers of what’s happening in South Florida. A large number of people rely on it to know, in our language, what’s considered cool,’’ he said with a devious smile.
Hipsters, bohemians and nonconformists aren't the only readers.
Businesses, everyday folks with kids and mortgages, even elected officials turn to PureHoney for the latest concert listings, gallery openings and band profiles they won’t find in daily newspapers or commercial magazines.
For emerging artists, musicians and writers trying to gain a foothold and develop a following, those listings and profiles are a lifeline.
“The importance of a wide variety of cultural opportunities cannot be understated,’’ said one avid reader, Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss, “and PureHoney serves a key role in keeping this art alive.’’
PUREHONEY WILL turn 10 in September. But to Rullman, it's his baby.
It was conceived in the early 1990s, nearly 20 years before the first issue rolled off the presses, when he was an emerging and sometimes mischievous musician and promoter.
He grew up in Boynton Beach. Indie music has always been in his DNA, and it didn’t take long for him to develop a disdain for the commercial mainstream alt-rock that dominated South Florida’s radio airwaves.
After an early-90s stint as frontman for The Unseelie Court, a psychedelic hardcore band, he embarked on a variety of music-related missions.
Armed with a marketing degree from Florida Atlantic University, he helped open The WormHole, a short-lived but influential live club in downtown West Palm Beach.
He handled bookings and marketing for Respectable Street nightclub, bringing in acts such as surf guitarist Dick Dale and indie bands Luna, The Faint and Death Cab for Cutie.
Another creative outlet in those early years was Pirate Radio (on WPBR and WOEQ), launched by Matt Reynolds of Sound Splash records and Paige Parker.
A year later, Pirate Radio became Irate Radio. One of the deejays was a Rullman-created alter ego, “Bill Kord.” The name underscored his intent to connect with his audience. When he introduced himself to listeners, “I’m Bill Kord” sounded vaguely like “umbilical cord.’’
As host of the “Resident Noize” show, “Kord” was an unabashedly passionate promoter of punk and indie underground bands.
He often used his shows to rail against what he referred to as “the so-called local alternative radio station” that launched in 1995 at 103.1 FM.
Known as The Buzz, the station struck gold with its formula of championing national acts like Green Day, The Offspring and Rancid. Underground purists, though, knew there was better, more original music out there that the corporate-owned station was ignoring.
“Kord” launched a sticker campaign that went viral: “Buzz Off — Corporate So. Fla. Radio Still Sucks” stickers popped up in bars, clubs and venues across Palm Beach County, to the dismay of 103.1 The Buzz.
“At one point, they sent 'Bill Kord' a cease-and-desist letter,’’ Rullman said the other day with a laugh.
“They called the house one time asking for him. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know him...Uh-huh…OK, I’ll let him know…’’’
Declaring victory just for getting under corporate radio’s thin skin, Rullman eventually backed off.
But he was only just getting started.
HE LANDED A job with the concert promotion company Fantasma Productions in 1997 but soon left to follow his heart: Promoting the talented but unknown musicians he played on Pirate Radio.
“I'd just left Fantasma and decided I needed a website to let people know what good shows were coming to town and what bands I liked,’’ he said.
The result was TheHoneyComb, the precursor to what would become PureHoney magazine. TheHoneyComb started attracting like-minded music junkies, guiding them to sounds they might not have discovered elsewhere.
In early 2011, fresh off a monthlong tour with The Dewars, Surfer Blood and The Drums, Rullman said he got the “inspired idea” to expand TheHoneyComb concept to a magazine with a big poster inside.
With input from local artists and journalists, he started developing the concept of “PureHoney,” a natural progression of a name signaling the best and sweetest underground music and art.
PureHoney started publishing in the fall of 2011 with a format that hasn’t changed much — fresh and culturally-aware short stories and original art.
It wasn’t long before the magazine carved out a loyal following: Finally, here was a local magazine promoting emerging musicians and artists. And where else can you get a cool piece of art that fits nicely in a backpack?
Rullman started receiving thank-you notes from readers happy that he’d turned them on to new bands like Roadkill Ghost Choir, Dead Confederate and Cop City Chill Pillars.
Others sent him photos of PureHoney posters on the walls of their homes, shops and offices.
By 2016, little PureHoney magazine spread its wings and started hosting a musical festival. Today, BumbleFest is a popular indie gathering that attracts local and national up-and-coming bands.
The fifth Bumblefest, set for Sept. 17 in the 500 block of Clematis Street, will celebrate the magazine's 10th anniversary.
To PureHoney insiders, it's no surprise that the magazine has resonated with so many readers.
“PureHoney is the cool but approachable music fan who won't like everything you like but will turn you on to great sounds,’’ said Sean Piccoli, the former South Florida Sun Sentinel music critic who has been PureHoney’s managing editor since 2017.
“It’s genuine and wants to help you find the culture in your midst. That promotes trust and affection among readers.’’
That’s also why many of the magazine’s readers enjoy other alternative publications like New Times while remaining faithful to PureHoney.
“PureHoney reaches people who aren't or aren't yet avid news consumers, people who are just more fully immersed in the scene that PureHoney supports,’’ Piccoli said.
The magazine is produced from Rullman's Lake Clarke Shores home. From his computer, he doles out assignments to his staff, a handful of writers who come and go and others who have stuck with him.
He also has a three-person distribution team charged with dropping off 8,000 issues every month from Stuart to Miami.
Up until April 2020, he hadn’t missed an issue in 10 years. But with live music silenced during the pandemic, PureHoney has published five issues intermittently.
Rullman has focused on putting out an issue every two months for now, with a goal of returning to monthly publications by early next year.
The fact that he has been able to stick it out during the pandemic, while local print newspapers continued gutting their staffs, is a testament to his commitment.
“Any periodical that can still connect readers and advertisers in the demolition derby of 21st century publishing has my gratitude and awe,’’ said Piccoli.
Plus, the PureHoney print experience is a unique one that can’t be replicated online.
“People still want to read something that they can pick up in their hands and not just on a cell phone,’’ Rullman said.
“It’s something that is beautiful and fun to look at, not just a bunch of text. It's my art. It's a creative outlet for me.’’
What’s the future for PureHoney?
Rullman laughed and recalled what he told his parents in 2011, that he’d publish it as long as he was alive.
“It will be around for as long as we can figure out a way to increase revenue and make it a bit more sustainable,’’ he said.
“I’d love to find a solid art or publishing grant to apply for to help cover expenses. A secret benefactor would be awesome!”
Among PureHoney’s advertisers, the most significant is West Palm Beach-based Subculture Group, which runs 17 restaurants and venues in South Florida.
Subculture’s support for PureHoney is more like an investment in a hot little commodity, said Rodney Mayo, the company’s owner.
“Steve has helped transform what was considered a wasteland for live and indie music into a thriving scene,’’ he said.
“TheHoneyComb and the magazine have been tangible conduits for fans of the arts to learn the what, where and when of cultural events in our area. We look forward to another decade of PureHoney.’’
HOT OFF THE presses on a hot August afternoon, dozens of bound stacks of PureHoney 109 wheeled onto the loading dock at Stuart Web Inc.
Waiting on the ramp was Rullman’s Jeep SUV, its rear hatch opened like a mouth waiting to be fed.
One by one, the bundles were loaded into every available space. By the time the last stack was dropped onto the front passenger’s seat, the rear-view mirror reflected only a floor-to-ceiling wall of stacks.
Perhaps more impressive, the SUV showed no signs of sagging from the weight of 1,200 pounds of PureHoney magazines as Rullman drove away.
Before heading to Interstate 95, where the magazines would eventually find their way to readers all the way to Miami Beach, Rullman made the first drop-off in downtown Stuart.
“All right! PureHoney is here!” proprietor Jennifer Holmes said after Rullman dropped two stacks on the counter of Hani Honey Company, a “meadery, eatery & honey shop,’’ according to its website.
“PureHoney is just a rad source of knowledge about music and art. I'd be even happier if it was more prominent here in Martin County,’’ she said.
Rullman sat at the counter, relaxing for the first time since he started planning the issue a month earlier. He watched with pride as Holmes thumbed through the issue and held up the poster.
Holmes didn't hesitate with her answer when asked if she was at all surprised that Rullman has been able to keep churning out fresh copies of the bold little magazine for the past 10 years.
“A lot of people who are passionate about what they do will stick it out when times are tough,’’ she said. “So, no, I’m not surprised.’’
Rullman adjusted his ball cap and grinned.
“I’m a little surprised,’’ he said.
Holmes smiled and jabbed a finger toward his chest. “Your shirt says it all,'' she said.
"Never Say Die. Never give up.’’
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe Capozzi is an occasional contributor to PureHoney.)
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