The Lesbian Mastermind behind The Dinah: An Interview with Mariah Hanson

This interview was published over at Huffington Post on October 13, 2014. I have shared it here for my WordPress friends.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mariah Hanson who runs The Dinah each year in Palm Springs. As confirmation of her lifetime of success, Mariah will be honored by The Center in Palm Springs with its first ever “Legacy Award” to recognize exceptional work on behalf of LGBT people living in the Coachella Valley. I met her this year at The Dinah and she was charming. I was lucky enough to get to ask her some questions well after the dust on the event settled.

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Tell me about yourself.
I am a very passionate woman interested in all aspects of really discovering all the ways we can grow and be the best person we can be. My event reflects that, working my weekend is like going through EST or a seminar. We really lay the groundwork for people to see how they can make a difference. How they can reach out to people who are on the edge, heartbroken, maybe in crisis, or in mourning. The vibe with my staff is really about making a very welcoming amazing first impression with people and then letting that experience flow throughout the weekend. Think about a fancy restaurant with a famous chef. The first course is fantastic. Then you have to go to the bathroom, excuse yourself, and you go in and it’s disgusting. How do you feel when you walk back to your food? Doesn’t matter how good the chef is now. I may be the face of Dinah, but everyone is important. Even the janitor.

I am definitely an event producer, who loves what I do and feels incredibly honored to do what I do. An individual who, as I grow older, is really enjoying the opportunity that we all have to grow and be kind and make a difference. Making a positive difference in our lives is really important. The journey that we have to take has a ripple effect. I love what I do. And then I ride horses. I am a cowgirl. I drive a Chevy. People wouldn’t recognize me.

How do you feel Dinah has developed?
I think it’s seen an incredible growth trajectory. It started out as a pretty wild three-day party focused around drinking and DJ driven. 24-25 years later it is an international lesbian music festival with film, comedy, live music, and charity. It just has become this amazing event. We gave feedback forms last year at the film festival and the feedback was more events like this – mostly from women in their 30s and 50s. As the event grows there is room to do different stuff during the Dinah.

How do you manage to top the year before?
Well I will tell you my goal isn’t to get bigger every year. The goal is just to throw the most amazing event for lesbians in the world. Other events are changing, more talent that is recognizable because gay events set the bar.

Do you see other event promoters as competition?
No. I see it as a win-win. You are in New Orleans and at that beignet shop – you know what I am talking about – there is a line around the block. [Cafe du Monde] Someone comes to NOLA and sees the line and thinks, wow they are making a lot of money; I want to open a beignet shop. But they aren’t as good at making beignets. So they revert to competitive tactics and send the health department over to the other shop. The other option is to see the line and think that this town loves pastries! Let’s open a bakery and make almond croissants. Second scenario: Everyone in NOLA is going to get really fat and be eating a lot of beignets and croissants. First: competitor will go out of business, not everyone is a beignet baker. Not everyone is nightclub promoter.

Favorite memory from the past 24 Dinah’s?
I’ve got a couple. One is listening to the Pussycat Dolls sing Don’t Cha. Another is talking to Katy Perry’s manager about Lady Gaga; I felt this presence behind me as I was talking to him. It was so strong and I turned around – it was Katy Perry, listening to everything I was saying to her manager. She is absolutely stunning and deserves her success. She has a good heart and is really funny. I was really blown away by her. Mary Lambert this year was spellbinding. I was so moved by her.

Me, too. Have you noticed a change in the crowd or any shifts?
I started producing independently in 2006 and that meant that I could make sure everyone was invited to the party and embrace the diversity of our community. If you go now it is incredibly diverse, people from all over the world, different pockets all over the US that are not as accepting as they could be, but at Dinah something different happens. It’s like walking through the door to Narnia and they just embrace the diversity. It is the most positive vibe over the weekend. It is amazing and thrills me. Look around. Look to your left and look to your right. This is amazing. We have 5 days of the most diverse and beautiful people. I’d like to invite the United Nations to come to Dinah and take notes. We can get along. Our differences are so small in the big scheme of things. It happens organically, but we are picking the seeds that we plant. I don’t allow my staff to be rude; if they are rude, they don’t come back. Customers aren’t allowed to be rude either. Positive seeds – treat every customer like gold. We are planting seeds that foster that kind of garden. So there is a stage that is set, and then it happens organically. Valuing and honoring people who attend the event. We appreciate that they are there and want them to have a wonderful weekend. I can’t take responsibility for the weekend, only for the stage.

I’m not so sure about that, Mariah. Who’s on your dream line up?
P!nk – been trying to get her forever. Bring Katy Perry back. Ok, here is my dream line up: P!nk, Katy Perry, Earth Wind & Fire, Chrissie Hynde, Justin Timberlake, and Dolly Parton. Challenge is that you have to stay relevant.

What is one thing people don’t know about you?
I am a bookworm. And, I do a Christmas poetry slam every year.

How fascinating! We talked about this for a few minutes. Mariah and her best friend recite poetry with each other to celebrate. With that, we moved on to the Lightning Round. Yes or no answers, no elaboration needed.

Favorite beer?
Stella, not a beer drinker. I prefer it on draft. I am a wine drinker – big reds.

Cars or motorcycles?
Cars, unless you say Vespa – in purple.

Rather be hot or cold?
Hot, hate to be cold.

Prefer to wear silver or gold?
Gold, I like silver more than I used to.

Books or movies?
Books. If you ask me fiction or nonfiction, then biographies. Why am I reading fiction when the lives of these people are so much more colorful than anything someone made up?

Straight ties or bow ties?
Bow ties, I have to go with eccentric. But, I am more into dresses and if she wore a tie.

And, with her last answer, I sat up a little taller, straightened my bow tie and thanked Mariah for her time. I have to say that I was expecting her to be different. I don’t know how exactly. Maybe less personal. A little more full of herself. After all, she runs the biggest lesbian event in the world. She gets huge talent to come to the desert to sing for several thousand women. Every year. She is a legend. But not as in old, just as in – it’s The Dinah! She has been running The Dinah since it was actually a golf tournament, with a party on the side (as opposed to the week-long party it is now). She wasn’t full of herself, though. She was funny and charming, and hot. I really enjoyed our talk. I can’t wait to go to The Dinah again next year.

It’s Butch to create something that gives so many lesbians joy, year in and year out. Thank you, Mariah. That’s very Butch. Be Butch.

About Tristan Higgins, aka Butch Jaxon

I am a butch. This blog is about what I think. If you do not know what butch means, you are probably on the wrong blog. In the interests of inclusion, though, I can tell you that “butch” means a lesbian that is big, strong, tough, more macho, less girly. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules – which is an ongoing theme in my blog (and in the comments), but those are the basics. A butch will most likely not wear makeup. A butch is often referred to as “sir” by someone who is not paying attention. What else? I am, after all, not just a butch. I am happily married to the most amazing woman ever, and the mother of two fantastic kids. I am also a lover of, in no particular order, beer, bow ties, breasts, movies, hiking, bookstores, travel, dogs, geocaching, polar bears, the gym, music, gadgets, and more. By day, I am an intrepid corporate entertainment lawyer. Although I try hard not to be labeled as such – sporting a bleached Mohawk, for example. Think more entertainment and less corporate. By night, bring it all on! In my blog, I talk about things from a butch perspective, but this is not just for butches. We all love our femmes. Please do not let me offend femmes, mine in particular! If you like what you read here, I hope you will comment and let me know what you think. If you do not like what you read, well, what the hell do I care? Start your own blog. Be Butch. View all posts by Tristan Higgins, aka Butch Jaxon

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