July 16, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Mariah Hanson, Visionary Founder of the Dinah: 32 Years of Queer Music and Community In Palm Springs

All About the Festival, the Music, and the Passion Behind This Inclusive Festival

Mariah Hanson, the visionary founder and producer behind The Dinah, one of the world’s largest and most enduring LGBTQ+ events, is gearing up for the 32nd edition of this spectacular gathering, set to take place from September 20th to the 24th at the Margaritaville in Palm Springs.

The eagerly anticipated 2023 lineup has just been unveiled, featuring headliners such as Princess Nokia, G.Flip, Phem, and Doechii, among other remarkable talents. For more details on the 2023 lineup, please visit https://www.ildkmedia.com/the-dinah-2023-lineup.

The Dinah has a legendary status in the LGBTQ+ community, hosting a parade of international mainstream and queer stars on its stage over the past 32 years, an achievement unparalleled in its field. Mariah Hanson’s innate talent for discovering emerging musical gems has transformed The Dinah into the premier platform for breakthrough recording artists.

The list of luminaries who have graced The Dinah’s stage reads like a who’s who of the music and entertainment world, including Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Bebe Rexha, Lizzo, Iggy Azalea, Kesha, Tegan and Sara, Lea Delaria, Kate Moennig, Leisha Hailey, Chaka Khan, Salt’n Pepa, Indigo Girls, Margaret Cho, Doechii, Mary Lambert, Fortune Feimster, Meghan Trainor, Meredith Baxter, and Fletcher. With this impressive roster spanning three decades, The Dinah has solidified its place in pop culture history.

The Dinah continues to break new ground in LGBTQ+ representation, showcasing fearless trailblazers who boldly pave the way for fresh directions in the music industry. Mariah Hanson consistently curates a lineup that spotlights emerging queer female and nonbinary artists, giving them a prominent stage to share their meaningful tunes and place the LGBTQIA+ community front and center—an important achievement in an industry that has often overlooked them.

What sets The Dinah apart is its dedication to celebrating queerness unapologetically and loudly, thanks to a new generation of outspoken queer artists. The event’s growth and longevity stand as a remarkable testament, especially in an era where lesbian bars, LGBTQ+ spaces, festivals, and publications are sadly vanishing across the country.

Recent efforts to preserve the few remaining lesbian bars, such as Lea Delaria’s executive-produced short film “The Lesbian Bar Project” and pop sensation FLETCHER’s annual “Meet Her At The Bar: Pride Month Experience,” highlight the vital role these spaces play in LGBTQ+ communities. 

Mariah Hanson’s contributions to the LGBTQ+ community extend beyond providing a safe haven. She has revolutionized her industry and challenged conventions, leaving an indelible legacy that is both immeasurable and monumental. Through The Dinah, she isn’t just breaking new ground; she’s making history and solidifying her Dinah’dynasty. 

It’s truly astonishing that The Dinah boasts a talent roster equal to that of festivals like Coachella, the iHeartRadio Music Festival, and Lilith Fair, making it an unsung treasure in the music festival landscape. We spoke to Mariah about this year’s edition of The Dinah, LGBTQIA community, and about how some things have changed and others haven’t. 

Dolores Quintana: Tell me a little bit about what The Dinah is.

Mariah Hanson: It’s a five-day music festival and event extravaganza geared towards queer women and their friends. 

Dolores Quintana: When does it take place? Is it like Coachella?

MH: Honey, I could not do it two times a year.

Dolores Quintana: That’s what I thought. 

MH: You only get one weekend from Mama. 

Dolores Quintana: Where does it take place?

MH: It’s in Palm Springs every year, going on for 32 years.  

Dolores Quintana: Wow! 

MH:  It would have been 33 if it were not for Covid.

Dolores Quintana: So you had to go dark during 2020? So it’s not just for queer women. Can allies like female allies attend?

MH: Of course. It’s for queer women but under the umbrella of women. First off, we don’t ask people about their sexual preferences.  Anybody is welcome to The Dinah as long as all attendees recognize that this is identified as a female-centric space. We want all people who enter the doors to honor that these spaces are exclusive and they’re dwindling. So if you’re here to celebrate all things female, then you’re going to fit right in because I think that as long as people are there with that intent, we will have a fantastic event. People will honor and keep those numbers the way that they should be, which is usually 98% queer. 

Dolores Quintana: I wanted to bring this up because I did read about this. A lot of female queer spaces are indeed disappearing, correct?

MH: That’s what I understand. 

Dolores Quintana What I see in West Hollywood is mostly gay clubs and spaces. I am trying to remember that there is a female nightclub in West Hollywood.

MH: There’s not a seven-day-a-week club for women there. Some promoters are working really hard to create a community there. 

Dolores Quintana: That’s good. What gave you the idea to start The Dinah?

MH: I was a natural party event producer, and I wanted to throw an event for my community.

Dolores Quintana: I noticed that you have a stellar list of artists who have performed at The Dinah over the years. From what I understand, The Dinah is famous for breaking artists and getting artists to play before they can become superstars.

MH: Yeah, we are known for getting our stars who are on the verge.

Dolores Quintana: Princess Nokia is going to be there this year. Can you name some other artists who will be there that we should keep an eye out for?

MH: All of them. We’re not putting anyone on the B-side. Every artist that we ask to perform at The Dinah, we believe, has a very good chance of becoming stratospheric. But, some ingredients need to be there in order for the artist to be successful. They have to have good management, and they have to have good representation. But those are oftentimes what makes the difference for artists. So we can’t control that variable. But every artist that we present on our stage we think is going to have the potential to be the next big thing. 

Dolores Quintana: You have faith in every single artist you put on the stage. 

MH: Of course, we wouldn’t book them if we didn’t. 

Dolores Quintana: I looked at the website. Is the event mostly sold out this year already? 

MH: What would give you that impression? Okay, our premium passes are sold out. But our festival passes aren’t sold out. The event would sell out if I limited it, and I don’t. If I gotta throw a tent out, I’ll throw a tent out. We’re not going to sell out. We’re going to make room for everybody that wants to come. 

Dolores Quintana: That’s great. I know a lot of times, with concerts or repertory theater screenings, most of the time, it’s about selling out. They’re trying to sell all the tickets that they have available.

MH: It’s not about selling out, creating community, and making sure that they’re a space for everybody that attends. That people are seen, felt, and heard. That’s what we do. Selling out is not our goal. Creating the environment that we do is our goal.

Dolores Quintana: How many events do you have for the entire weekend?

MH: Let’s see. We have a Wednesday opening party, Thursday night party, Friday pool party, Friday night party, Saturday pool party, Saturday night party, and a party on Sunday. Eight events.

Dolores Quintana: Okay, so eight major events, and it sounds like you have a pool party during the day and a music festival-type party at night. That’s like, it’s a long weekend. It goes from Wednesday to Sunday. Correct?

MH: Yeah. Or Monday morning. Yeah.

Dolores Quintana: I wanted to ask, philosophically, obviously, you’ve been doing this for 30-plus years. Do you see anything changing about the community, in general? Is it growing? Is it becoming more of a community? What are your observations about the state of the community?  

MH: It is becoming much more inclusive. Absolutely. And it’s wonderful to see, I think young people are impassioned and socially aware and activists in very exciting ways.

Dolores Quintana: I have noticed that younger generations, a majority of the millennials, but generations, like X and Y, are really starting to be more than just open, but very comfortable with LGBTQ+ as a group, and much more willing to consider that they might not be straight.

MH: I think things have gotten very fluid, I think. I think people aren’t afraid to explore. I get that, and that’s thanks to people who have really pioneered the way. But I also think, let’s not be too comfortable. Think about it. The Supreme Court just struck down Roe vs. Wade. They said that gay marriage is next. Is our work done? Absolutely not. People can’t get too comfortable. No, that’s really dangerous. We always have to be ever vigilant that the world it’s not the softest place for us. So, to get too comfortable with commingling and letting go of our spaces and living lives that aren’t connected to an LGBTQIA center lessens our strengths as a group. 

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. So these things are really critical for young people to understand that, yes, it’s really easy to go to a straight bar with your boyfriend or your girlfriend, and nobody’s gonna throw you out or beat you up? Yet, I don’t think we’re far away if we’re not ever vigilant from a world where we are thrown back into the closet. S we can’t take these things for granted. We need to enjoy them and continue to fight for them because this battle is not over. There are forces that are at work in this country. 

Dolores Quintana: There sure are. I noticed that at Long Beach Pride, which just happened this last weekend. One of the big events they had that was new was The Drag Dome, where it was just six hours of drag performances. They brought up that they thought it was important to celebrate the community, especially because some places are trying to make being queer illegal and demonize different parts of the community. Would you agree that an event like The Dinah is one of those places where you can celebrate who you are? That it has that kind of importance that it is a reminder to the community, but also a celebration of that part of the LGBTQIA community?

MH: Of course, I think that for sure. 

Dolores Quintana: Is there any advice you would give someone young and queer on how to stay connected to the community or navigate through life?

MH: It’s always important to create networks and support systems, whether that’s your local community center, whether that’s other LGBTQIA groups in the area that you live in, or even getting to positive online resources that are helpful in navigating the very difficult coming out process or the very difficult process of being LGBTQIA in an area that’s not as supportive as other areas. I wouldn’t want to be queer in Florida when my heart goes out to them. So it’s really important to stay connected. It’s about supporting events that are supporting your community center. It is staying active and voting. Yes. I mean, it’s amazing how many people don’t vote. 

Dolores Quintana: Yes, it’s stunning. It’s stunning how many people don’t vote.

MH: Our rights are being stripped from us. I think there are lots of ways to do that. I think it’s really important that our youth stay very active and cognizant that as much as enjoyable as these new freedoms are, sometimes it’s like we’re kind of on borrowed time if we are sitting around enjoying it without realizing when the rug gets pulled out from under us. 

I would also like to talk about how powerful our LGBTQIA artists are becoming in the music industry and how easy it is for them to be out and still have a very clear trajectory to worldwide recognition. One of the things that we’re doing this year that’s really different is our two Sunday performers on the full stage were people that we selected from our emerging artist contest last year who were so outstanding that we thought they deserved a slot on our lineup. We decided to change our program a little bit and to bring two artists every year that aren’t signed and put them on our stage. 

Dolores Quintana: That’s great. 

MH: We will be inviting agents in the industry to come see them. 

Dolores Quintana: Oh, fantastic. I’m glad to hear about the emerging artists contest because that’s wonderful. That’s a way to give them a real shot. 

MH: We have an emerging artists contest where unsigned artists send in their videos, and we choose from them. Then, we put a vote to the people who are watching our social media. We’re the final decision because sometimes these are just somebody’s really good at getting people to access social media platforms. Then, we invite them to play either Thursday or Sunday night so that we can get some unsigned artists on our ancillary stages. 

But this year, we gave them Sunday, which is it’s a larger audience, and it’s on our official roster, so it’s not like the emerging artist winner. You’re part of our lineup, and I’m really excited by that. I think that the difference between very successful performing artists and not-as-successful artists who are equally talented is your agent and your manager.

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