Pictured above Mariah Hanson with (from left): Chely Wright, Lily Tomlin, Katy Perry, Cece Peniston, Pat Benatar, and Ke$ha.
Down a long dusty driveway in Sonoma, California, past a stable of horses, an old discarded truck and other rusty artifacts, I arrive at Mariah Hanson’s beautiful ranch house, where the party producer spent childhood summers with her family. I’m here to chat about Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend, aka The Dinah, which celebrates 30 years under Hanson’s tutelage when it returns to Palm Springs September 29 through October 3. I’m also here to renew a friendship. It’s been a few years since we’ve ridden horses together in these northern California hills.
The author and Mariah Hanson on horseback.
I first met Mariah when she was producing lesbian clubs in San Francisco in the ’90s. She’s always been a spark plug, but in the past few years I’ve seen a change in her — a softening. We’ve all grown older and wiser, but it’s especially exciting to bear witness to an old friend’s personal growth. After three decades of what has been called the world’s largest lesbian circuit party — but which she has transformed into an annual music festival — she muses on why The Dinah still matters.
Why she’s grateful: “At 28, I was a pioneer at creating this platform for lesbians in a whole new format. There was a lot of responsibility that came with that, but I knew what to do and enjoyed it. It’s rare to be fortunate enough to be able to align what we love doing with what we are good at. So, when I look back on over 30 years of producing events, I feel really grateful for the trajectory of my life. I’ve been given this gift of The Dinah, and I’m always asking myself, how can I share this gift in a way that creates positive change in the world?”
Why she does it: “I come from an activist family. Having a really powerful mother with a deep commitment to challenging the inequities in our world really shaped me. My mother marched in every civil rights protest she could possibly get to. For me, The Dinah is an opportunity to rail against the machine in very subtle and nuanced ways by bringing together a diverse group of people and creating an extremely inclusive environment. Our commitment is to increasing that diversity as much as we can.”
Mariah Hanson and Lily Tomlin in 2015.
Why it matters: “It’s bigger than a party — and even though it looks like five days of bacchanalian delight, it’s actually a movement! The Dinah is a place where it’s possible for people to live in the world they want to live in, and the diversity there is beautiful. What people experience at The Dinah is incredibly powerful. We are bringing people together from all over the country — and the world — people who don’t always have the same experience as those of us who live in a liberal bubble, like San Francisco. I think bringing nonbinary, queer, and woman-identified women together from all different backgrounds and ethnicities really makes a difference in helping us to understand each other.”
What she’s doing to keep it safe: “I’ve hired a COVID compliance manager… I’ve hired a medical company to come in and do onsite testing…You will need to bring vaccination cards or proof of a negative test within 48 hours. We are planning on masking inside…[and] I have venues with a lot of space for social distancing indoors. We are, however, in a pandemic, and anything we do, other than locking ourselves in our homes, has a certain risk factor.”
On the entertainment this year: “The 2020 line-up we had planned was incredible — Saweetie was my headliner but she’s had stratospheric success this past year and now I can’t get her! People can expect a really phenomenal line-up this year. I am bringing back some old-school [performers like] Macy Gray and a roster of emerging artists, including MK xyz.”
Why we need it “We have our own specific and amazing culture — and we need to be with each other….After a year and a half of not being able to connect in person, we need each other more than ever. Even though we are not yet out of the pandemic, one thing I know for sure is that The Dinah will prevail. We are always going to be here.”
See 101 images of performers and celebrities who've attended previous Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend events over the years.