The Dinah Weathers the Storm
Photo: Courtesty of Club Skirts
Mariah Hanson, founder of the international and cultural phenomenon dubbed the Dinah, is expecting another 10,000 lesbians to make the annual pilgrimage to Palm Springs in April, despite our economically precarious times. That, says Hanson, is because she understands how recessions, leisure and mindset converge. Hanson says most forms of leisure (including celebrity-laden parties with tons of sexy, barely-clothed lesbians) are not purchased for practical purposes, but for emotional ones. Hence this year’s economic turbulence might just mean a lot of dykes seeking relief closer to home.
For Hanson, who produced her first solo Dinah Shore Weekend, in 1991, seeing the Dinah grow to become the largest lesbian event in the world has been her crowning glory. This year, the Dinah returns to their very first host hotel, The Riviera Resort, with a all-star cast of celebrity performers including Katy Perry, Uh Huh Her, Indigo Girls, Lady Gaga, Margaret Cho, Elizabeth Keener, Fannius III, Briana Stockton, Jill Bennett, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Yo Majesty, Erin Foley and God-Des and She.
The Dinah usually attracts 10,000-plus participants. Has the current economic condition affected ticket sales?
Ticket sales are on target and I am thankful for that for a lot of reasons. In the light of a looming recession, I was faced with either staying on target and increasing my budget or cutting back. I choose to increase it. The Dinah is about celebrating our lives, our loves, our moments, and this year, more than any other, I did not want to hold back on my efforts to create that magic. It's going to be the best Dinah I have ever produced. For five days, we plan on helping people forget about the current state of things and give the girls a reason to celebrate, smile, laugh, go wild, go crazy, and let loose a lot of steam.
How does a recession affect lesbian leisure activities like this?
The Dinah has been through a couple of recessions and I think our customers consider it a weekend where, even in tough times, it's a must do. I am thankful for that, and at the same time mindful of the times.
Do you think more women will attend than normal because it's closer to home than other vacations or do you expect that you'll attract a similar attendance to last year?
I think attendance will remain stable. We might see an increase in California girls and some fall out from the national market, but then again, who knows? At this point, it really looks like the girls are coming in full force. I think people need something to look forward to.
How can lesbians make this an affordable trip?
Room shares are important. Carpooling. Buying the All Access Pass before Jan. 15. For all the entertainment I have planned, it's by far the best deal. A lot of women do not buy it and end up spending more on individual tickets than they would have on the pass, so it's the smartest way to do the Dinah. If you become a member of thedinah.com, you can take $20 off the All Access Pass. You just sign up at the site. When you order tickets, use the email address you used to sign up and you get $20 off. Book your hotel room early. Once the host hotels start selling out, surrounding hotels tend to up their prices.
Tell me about your first Dinah. How different was it than say last year?
My first Dinah was really exciting for me and incredibly stressful. I really didn't know what I was doing. [Laughs] It was huge venture to undertake and of course I did it full force and just figured it out as I went. But, you know what just occurs to me? Now I know what I am doing and it's still stressful. Seriously, the quality of production and entertainment is so much higher than when I first started out. I feel much more confident about the direction I am taking the weekend.
You've had a lot of celebs at the Dinah, including the cast of The L Word, Pat Benatar and the Pussycat Dolls. How important are celebrities? Can the right celebrity make or break attendance?
I think the girls love the celebrities we bring but I don't think that is why they attend our parties. Club Skirts throws stellar parties and creates a vibe that speaks to the entire community, so every one feels welcome and a part of the Dinah. So many celebrities are attending Club Skirts that are not even on our roster. Last year, Kate Pierson of the legendary B-52's hopped on stage with the band Betty. In 2006, Carmen Electra was hanging out with Joan Jett at Club Skirts’ hotel late Saturday night. The Three Way cast—Maeve Quinlan, Cathy Shim, Maile Flanagan and Jill Bennett—filmed episodes there and brought Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie actress Kristy Swanson. Pepper Mashay, of Dive in the Pool fame, showed up and hopped on stage to sing her hit. You never know who is going to show up. It's very cool. The celebs are not why they go, but at Club Skirts, it makes the going all that much hotter.
Tell me what's different about this year.
We're at the Riviera Resort, my all-time favorite hotel. The property has undergone a complete face-lift. After a $90 million renovation, it's simply hip, trendy and stunning. [Attendees can] plan on more fun and good times than ever before, in five star surroundings. We're also at The Palm Springs Convention Center, the largest event space in the desert—one of the reasons we could book talent as popular as Indigo Girls and Katy Perry. This year we are introducing our first annual GLAAD Cocktail reception, which I am excited about.
There's a lot of misconceptions about the Dinah. Which one do you most want to correct?
It's not just a massive, wild party, although that part of it has a great appeal for those who just want to cut loose and regenerate by taking a few days off to enjoy mindless fun. But really, everyone is there for different reasons and you can pretty much make the weekend whatever you want. So much socializing, camaraderie, entertainment of all kinds, dancing, comedy, making new friends, falling in love takes place that you can enjoy it on many different levels.
Tell me your favorite Dinah memory?
This year when Pat Benatar ended her concert with "We Belong,” it was as if she was singing to us and she was telling us that we belong, too. It was beautiful.
There was some controversy a few years back between you and your old business partners. What affect did that have on how you do business?
I didn't initiate the split, and was really surprised at the action. But despite it being a painful time, I am now grateful that it happened. Change is always difficult, yet it always offers a time for growth...which is exactly what I have done. I am proud to offer an event which focuses on putting my customers at the forefront of the event and at the same time offering the level of entertainment I've only been able to provide since the split.
What advice do you have for lesbian travelers in this tight economy?
Enjoy every minute of the Dinah. Don't overdo it and subsequently miss a thing.