By Megan Wadding, March 26, 2015.
What started out in as a small, one-night event at the world-renowned Palm Springs Modern Art Museum in 1991 has evolved into a five-day lesbian rite of passage that recorded more than 15,000 attendees from all over the world in 2014 alone.
This year, the annual Club Skirts presents Dinah Shore weekend – the largest lesbian event in the world – is celebrating its 25th anniversary April 1-5. And, in true Dinah Shore fashion, the Palm Springs party weekend promises a show-stopping concert lineup, pool parties, comedy shows, celesbian guests, one-of-a-kind vendors, a beer pong tournament as well as a few new surprises. Read interviews with two local Dinah Virgins, before they hit the road, in “Palm Springs or Bust!”
Mariah Hanson, founder and producer of the legendary event said she never expected it to become this massive or successful.
Palm Springs or Bust
“I started out with the idea of bringing a fantastic event filled with great entertainment and thousands of women to the desert during the golf tournament,” Hanson said in a phone interview with Echo, “but I never thought it’d reach the status that it enjoys today.”
Hanson, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, said after only one visit to Palm Springs she said she knew it would make a perfect host city for her event.
“It’s a big spring break town. I had been out there once and I felt like it had so much potential to be a world-class event, because the town is world-class,” she said. “We grew with the town. It was very Republican when I started and now it’s not only very Democrat, but very gay.”
Hanson added that Palm Springs has always been very welcoming to The Dinah and the two enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.
“[Palm Springs] considers Dinah Shore weekend one of the top five signature events for the city. That’s a very important statement to be making to the LGBTQ community,” Hanson said. “I love working out of Palm Springs. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
Hanson is expecting thousands of women from around the world to descend upon Palm Springs for The Dinah, many of them first-timers and many of them from Arizona.
“It’s exciting to be there for the first time and I find that first-timers tend to overdo it early on,” Hanson said. “Pace yourself. There’s a lot to do. And you don’t want to miss a show.”
A Music Mission
About six or seven years ago Hanson said she had a vision of The Dinah becoming a powerful music festival and upping the entertainment ante has been particularly important to her since.
“I was in a position where I could [focus on the music] because the event was doing so well,” Hanson said. “We’ve been allocating a lot of the event to greater and greater headliners, because we really wanted to make a stamp on the entertainment community by offering the very best talent.”
Since then, The Dinah has become known for booking some of the music industry’s biggest names, such as Iggy Azalea, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and The Pussycat Dolls, just before they hit the threshold of superstardom. Because of this, Hanson said, The Dinah is becoming widely known as a launching pad for up-and-comers. Read Echo‘s interviews with three comedienne’s who will take the stage in “Meet the Funny Ladies of The Dinah.”
Although Hanson’s been asked to share the method to her music madness, she won’t tell.
“It’s called the ‘Dinah Secret Sauce,’ secret being the operative word,” she said. “I do have a formula that I’ve kind of developed over the years, but I don’t talk about it because then everyone could do it.”
In celebration of the 25th anniversary, Hanson said they went all out on their entertainment line-up.
“It’s probably the best we’ve ever had. I’m really excited to showcase these performers,” Hanson said. “Meghan Trainor is the it-girl right now, so that’s fun. And Christina Perri, who doesn’t have a crush on her?”
Other entertainers throughout the weekend include rising talents Ivy Levan and Bebe Rexha, Crystal Waters, Rose Royce, Holy Child, Olivia Sommerlyn and E11even.
Aside from star-studded entertainment, Hanson said a new event, called Celebrity Beer Pong, was created to replace the regular Celesbian Dodgeball event. The celebrities involved include “Girl/Girl Scene” web series star and creator Tucky Williams, the cast of “L Word Mississippi,” “The Real L Word” season one cast member Tracy Ryerson, actress and stand-up comic Bridget McManus and plenty more.
The Power of the “L”
Hanson said there has been talk among music managers about The Dinah and its power.
“They’re going, ‘Every time they play this lesbian event, they take off’,” Hanson said. “Lesbians are getting credit for being early adapters, spending money, buying CDs and actually altering the launch [of these] careers.”
This year’s headliner, 2015 Grammy nominee Meghan Trainor, had not been launched into superstardom when Hanson initially booked her. Hanson said that with her knack of booking the next big thing, you really don’t know which performer will take off next.
Hanson added that for some of the entertainers scheduled to perform this year, this may be the last time they perform at a smaller venue.
“I remember when I announced Iggy Azalea, everyone said ‘Who’s that?’ With someone like [her], it’s pretty cool to see them in an intimate surrounding,” Hanson said. “Everyone was mad at me for booking Katy Perry and The Pussycat Dolls … I kept getting ‘Who’s that?’ But people are starting to catch on now that ‘Who’s that?’ could be the next big thing at any given moment.”
Hanson’s vision is to see The Dinah continue to grow, especially in terms of its talent.
“We’re moving towards it becoming a very prominent music festival,” Hanson said. “I think we’ve actually gotten there … We always want the event to stay relevant and be women-centric. We’re focusing on music because that’s a common denominator that brings all of us together at any moment.”
According to Hanson, The Dinah has also given credence to the buying power of the lesbian community.
“I think [we] have been really instrumental in having the mainstream media and entertainment look at the lesbian community as a viable economic market,” Hanson said. “I think women have always lagged a little bit behind the guys in terms of economics and acceptance, so I think The Dinah makes a really important statement for lesbians. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
Until Next Year
Hanson prides herself on actually attending all of the weekend’s events to make sure everything is first-class and runs smoothly.
“I’m responsible for everything, so nobody is going to watch the event like I do. I’m not out on the dance floor dancing – I supposed I have in the past,” she joked. “But I am there making sure it is a well-run, safe event.”
But, year after year, Hanson admitted that the best part of the job is walking away at the end of each Dinah Shore weekend with a feeling of celebration and a job well done.
“It’s pretty amazing to be able to look at the event at any given time and just see so many women having the time of their lives and knowing that you partially helped make that happen, and to live out loud, to be in this important group in this city for five days,” Hanson said. “That’s a real sense of celebration and accomplishment for me, because I think it’s so good for our community.”
Although Hanson prefers to follow her over-the-top event up with some relaxation and “horse-camping,” she admits that the planning for next year’s event starts immediately.
“We start planning the next Dinah right after one ends,” she said. “We’re already negotiating contracts for the next year.”