Not-so-newsworthy newsflash: Print newspapers and magazines are in trouble. That's a fact evidenced in the closing of so many businesses around the country, seemingly every other day. So who in their right mind would embark on such an endeavor in this risky climate? Steev Rullman would, the madman behind PureHoney Magazine and a South Florida music scene lifer.
Amazingly, PureHoney, a local rag born from the mind of a local institution, celebrated its four-year anniversary this past weekend at Respectable Street. It's a venue Rullman is well acquainted with, having regularly booked bands there for eight years. The one-night-only mini rock and roll festival consisted of seven bands — six from the area and one nationally touring outfit — some performing indoors and others on the outdoor patio.
In addition to serving as PureHoney's birthday party, the fest also functioned as a quasi-fundraiser for Thomas Fekete, the guitarist of West Palm Beach natives, Surfer Blood. In April, the band announced that Fekete was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer that's already spread to his lungs and spine. That same month, Fekete launched a GoFundMe page to collect donations to help with the rising cost of his medical procedures. In May, that effort became all the more difficult when Surfer Blood's van was broken into during a stop in Illinois and the money collected at shows was stolen.
A portion of the cover charge for Saturday night's fest will go towards Fekete's treatment, as well as some of the money made from the sale of merch, including PureHoney t-shirts (still available online) and John Ralston vinyl LPs. Also in the mix will be the cash from a series of raffle prizes including several gift cards generously donated by local establishments like Dada, Howley's, Hullabaloo, Longboards, Propaganda, and the festival's host, Respectable Street.
As for the evening's entertainment, the lineup was an eclectic blend of styles and a balanced representation of differing rock genres; most of the bands shined, while a few, well, didn't.
Sweet Bronco launched the festivities on the indoor stage. Currently signed to Rullman's label, Camp Thunderbee Records, it was the second time in as many weeks that the Wilton Manors-based four-piece played Clematis. Last week, they helped open for The Misfits during a show plagued by rain and a crappy audio setup. This time, however, Sweet Bronco's grand combo of 80s post rock and 90s shoegaze surged through the speakers. When they took the stage around 9:30 pm, it was still a bit early for West Palm Beach to make an appearance in earnest, which is a shame, since Sweet Bronco put on a solid set that fell somewhere between Foals and Interpol.
As the hipsters, punks, weirdos, and dance-happy crowd trickled in, random film clips played on the white spaces above the indoor seating, ranging from Daft Punk music videos to bizarre foreign movies. Outside the fest continued with Pocket Full of Lollipops, a Miami trio playing what can only politely be described as “experimental” rock. Simultaneously shouty and monotone, their music featured droning bass lines and unimaginative, repetitive lyrics. It was about as uncomfortable a listening experience as the humidity making our clothes stick.
Coming to the rescue was John Ralston, a veteran troubadour and gifted songwriter. Assisted by Sweet Bronco frontman Chris Horgan on guitar and keys, Ralston churned out a vibrant and earthy set of Americana. The mid-tempo guitar rock was loud and full of breezy harmonies reminiscent of Tom Petty and Ryan Adams at their best. Every so often, his punchy, folk-tinged numbers bordered on country, with hints of both Dawes and Drive-By Truckers. Ralston completely captured the hearts and minds of the listening audience. He's a man out of place in Florida, better suited for Jack White's Third Man Records and playing shows at Stubb's in Austin.
Another standout was Milk Spot, an absolutely manic band that was wild, funny, and over-the-top. Brandishing songs like weapons, Milk Spot's songs are a motley crew of Ramones-type vibes, Electric Six silliness, and Tenacious D song titles. There's “Kill You With My Piss,” “Neuter Me,” and “Hot Rhonda,” the latter sounding like a thrash/punk version of the B-52's “Rock Lobster.”
One of the more impressive bands on the bill was Chaucer, a group Rullman (and speaking on behalf of John Ralston) calls the “best new band” in South Florida. Delivering a spry, lo-fi bubblegum pop sound, Chaucer had the energy of toddlers loosed in a toy store — a deeply merry unit to party with.
The shifting genres populating the anniversary party were a testament to how spot-on Rullman's varying taste can be. After all, he tends to book bands he simply likes; a certainly uncomplicated approach. On the whole, there was a very positive, house party vibe to the fest, with so many friends in the audience hugging and dancing together. The five dollar cover charge was a bargain considering the mostly high quality of the bands. Hopefully, this was just one of many PureHoney events for years to come.