Ultimate Party Girl: Mariah Hanson
Throwing big parties was Mariah Hanson’s birthright it seems. During the past 20 years, Mariah, has brought The Dinah, the largest annual lesbian party in the world, in Palm Springs, Calif. to new heights.
Hit makers Chely Wright, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and the Pussy Cat Dolls among other A-list performers have all left tours to perform at Club Skirts The Dinah for up to an estimated 20,000 lesbians for the annual week long lesbian love fest loaded with bikini clad women, golf enthusiasts, and a bevy of parties in the California desert.
“That’s a real coup for the lesbian community, because we are really looked at now as early adapters and trend setters,” says Mariah, who claims she is setting the standard for queer and straight events to have “Dinah Shore stand for the amazing quality of our community: that we are cutting edge, we are top notch; we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Mariah, who declined to state her age, started throwing mega-parties at Sonoma State University, north of San Francisco, but Mariah’s parties proved to be too big for the university’s dorms and cafes. Mariah’s third blow-out party led the campus to officially banning parties, she says.
“I threw really good parties in college,” says Mariah, who found her car parked in the middle of the school’s quad after one of the parties.
“I don’t know how it got there,” says Mariah reminiscing and then mischievously adds. “I have a little claim to fame there at Sonoma State University.”
Mariah, a Mill Valley native, realized that college was too small for her. She packed her bags and headed to San Francisco and founded Club Skirts, a Sunday night dance club at Club Townsend, and quickly followed it up with the Girl Spot, better known as the G-Spot, a Saturday night dance club at the End Up in 1988. The G-Spot was an instant hit that “reached international status” and was the place for queer-girls-in-the-know to be seen for 15 years.
Mariah was only 21 years old and she already had her eyes set on the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs.
Mariah saw opportunity and space enough that she thought would fit her in Palm Springs when she met up with Kathy Miller, a private event planner who was hosting private parties for queer women and pro-golfers during the mid-to-late ‘80s. Kathy showed Hanson her format and soon after Mariah hosted her first party.
At the same time, Los Angele’s Girl Bar ladies, Robin Gans and Sandy Sachs, partnered with Jeffrey Sanker’s White Party in 1990. The three all-girl nightlife vixens Mariah, Robin, and Sandy met each other and partnered up for 15 years hosting the Dinah Shore Weekend, but went their separate ways after a brief legal tango in 2006.
“Once the split happened and I could take the event in the direction that I wanted: I chose to take it in the direction of offering first class entertainment,” says Mariah. “I thought that was something that this community, the lesbian community, really deserved. Quite frankly I don’t think that there are very many promoters in the nation [that] are doing the kind of concerts that Club Skirts is doing — gay or straight.”
“It was a partnership that started out well and then wound up not going well,” says Robin adding that Mariah, Robin and Sandy had different management styles and visions for the future of the Dinah Shore Weekend.
“There’s an expression: some relationships are for a reason, a season, or a lifetime and that relationship was for a season,” continues Robin.
The spit opened up the playground for the Dinah Shore Weekend guests, say the promoters, who have moved on.
“It’s really amazing for women to have choices,” says Mariah, welcoming the competition. “When you have more than one promoter, you have more choices … you just plan got to throw really good events or no one is going to be coming to your parties.”
Mariah briefly brought the Dinah experience to Northern California with the Club Skirts Monterey Women’s Festival in 1996 that lasted for seven years. Mariah also opened Cherry Bar, a seven day a week lesbian nightclub, in San Francisco in 2003, unfortunately it didn’t last. Three years after opening, Mariah sold the club to focus on her vision for the Dinah and to partner with queer girl nightclubs around the country.
While lesbian bars and clubs have shut down in recent years, Mariah believes, “We still need our spaces that are just for us, because regardless of how integrated we become as a lifestyle no one really understands our lifestyle unless they live it.”
Party with a cause
Hanson attributes San Francisco’s community for teaching her accountability and responsibility as a “young pup club promoter” who matured in the progressive environment.
“I really learned the importance that promoters have a responsibility in their roles,” says Mariah, who always tries to “weave parties with purposes.”
“We party with a cause … we are celebrating in light of the fact that there is still a lot of work to do and we want our rights,” says Mariah, who sits on the board of Equality California and on the “Women’s Night” committee for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. Both organizations are Dinah recipients of Club Skirts The Dinah.
Mariah didn’t expect the Dinah Shore Weekend to evolve to the level it has become, she says. She simply thought she was “just throwing a big party” that was “groundbreaking” back then, just as it is now, but in a different way, she says.
She’s proud of what she’s accomplished with The Dinah.
“We are just going to continue growing it and making it the best possible event that we possibly can,” says Mariah, who is committed to keeping up with the trend and to keeping the edge. “We will continue to be a frontrunner in that area.”
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