The Dinah - still the biggest lesbian event on Mother Earth
A chat with its founder, Mariah Hanson
By Kevin Perry
Listen closely and you’ll hear empowerment rippling its way through the desert, careening through three decades, and descending on Palm Springs this April. The Dinah celebrates its 30th triumphant anniversary of rocking, rolling, and blowing the roof off of expectations, year after year.
It’s hard to believe that nobody wanted this mega-successful music, arts, and cultural festival when it first began.
“Oh, I’ve got some stories!” laughs Mariah Hanson, the entrepreneur who conceived of The Dinah. “30 years ago, even 20 years ago, we weren’t quite where we are today,” she recounts. “It was hard for me to get hotel contracts the first few years. They were waiting to see what kind of business they could get.”
Well, business boomed like a pulsating subwoofer. The Dinah has blossomed into a Sapphic celebration, welcoming thousands of women and the women who love them to the queen of all Inland Empire weekends. But its beginnings were humble, to say the least.
“They were these sparse events with no décor,” Hanson remarks, “but I thought that there was this incredible resort town with a built-in golf tournament that women were interested in, so the parties needed to be of a higher standard. Rather than tying a balloon to a speaker.”
Hanson dreamed big enough for vendors to share in her inclusive vision. “I wanted to come in and engage sponsors and engage the hotels – not just take 50 rooms of a hotel, but go out on a limb and take out an entire hotel contract so we could have an all-inclusive experience with just women in a hotel rather than sharing a space with other parts of our community that didn’t even approve of our lifestyle 30 years ago.”
As always, when you need a rainbow hug, look no further than PS. “Palm Springs, even in its conservatism back then, embraced us pretty quickly and helped us to make it our home,” beams Hanson. “The town’s perfect for The Dinah – I wouldn’t bring it anywhere else!”
But as the old saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without p***ing off some eggs. OK, we’re paraphrasing, but you get the point. “30 years ago, I raised the bar from Day One. Our first event was at the Palm Springs Museum. They rewrote their corporate benefactor program so that I could never come back! [mischievous laughter] True story. But it’s really important for me to offer spaces where we can feel proud.”
Capital-P Pride hasn’t always been easy to harvest in the LGBTQ’mmunity. “I think our community has suffered from a collective low self-esteem because of the oppression that we have faced every day of our lives,” declares Hanson. “Historically, our bars were dark. They were also in the part of town that maybe wasn’t so well trafficked, because it was not always safe to be out. So, to present a weekend like The Dinah, where many of the events are outside and all of the events are in venues that are upscale and beautiful and inviting – it’s a statement!”
Hanson savors her words and punctuates with passion. “It’s a statement that our lives matter, that we are living with visibility and joy for five days, and it’s infectious. The energy that event creates and sustains is pretty magical. People leave The Dinah feeling changed.”
That change began with one woman’s voice and now echoes into the stuff of legend. “I’ve always wanted to deliver a message of let’s rock it together,” exclaims Hanson. “It worked. I went from having a hard time getting any contracts to getting a 10-year contract put in front of me.
Eager to share the spotlight, Hanson heaps praise onto her host city and its hospitable accommodations. “Palm Springs is so off the hook these days. Thank god for The Hilton that is so committed to The Dinah and so committed to diversity and LGBTQIA rights that they make it possible for me to produce the event there every year.”
With the stage so eloquently set, let’s drill down to what makes The Dinah rock so hard. “We’re creating a platform that says, ‘You are so amazing just as you are. You deserve to have an event that has amazing talent.’”
Thanks for the perfect segue, Mariah! On the topic of talent, Ms. Hanson continues, “Having been an event producer for 32 years, I have developed an ear for the next big thing. We’ve been offering that every year for the past 12 years now, when I really started upping the ante with entertainment. Lizzo was two years ago. We’ve had Meghan Trainor, Natasha Bedingfield, Lady Gaga, Jessie Reyez, Iggy Azalea – the list is incredible!”
Hanson explains why the festival is akin to harnessing lightning in a bottle. “Attending The Dinah in a venue that is relatively small for where some of these acts are headed is an amazing experience. I hear stories like, ‘I can’t believe I was there when Lizzo was playing at the Sunday pool party!’
“Here you are with this intimate experience with an artist,” Hanson narrates. “It’s really inspiring.”
“These stories are important to me. My customers may look at it as entertainment, but I look at it as really powerful messaging.” Summoning her inner club promoter, Hanson hits a crescendo. “When you’re working with a platform like The Dinah, which is considered the largest lesbian event in the world, I take it really seriously. I want our community to believe in itself.”
Fans have joined the joyous chorus, flocking to The Dinah in loving droves. “We’ve always been very inclusive and we’ve managed to keep the ratio about 99% women.”
So, who comprises that elusive 1%? For starters, one of this year’s headliners: John Waters. “He’s just such an icon!” emotes Hanson. “He’s doing a 20-minute Q&A after the show and he’s also doing a meet-and-greet. He’s just really excited to do this, and I love the idea too.”
Vanguard filmmaker Waters has always infected the cutting edge of pop culture, and now he is part of The Dinah’s unapologetic future. “Sky’s the limit!” Hanson hoots. “We deserve the very best. We deserve to be living out loud, and at The Dinah, that’s exactly what we do. Every minute of that event.”
And if you miss even one of those minutes, you’ll be kicking yourself until next year. The Dinah waits for no man.
April 1 - 6, 2020