As temperatures in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere continue to lurk determinedly at the cold end of the thermometer, we’re desperately in need of a blast of heat. And it doesn’t get hotter than The Dinah, the world’s biggest lesbian event, hitting Palm Springs for five days of parties, pools, poker, comedy and film from April 2 to 6 this year.
What started out as simply a few gay women meeting when the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament came to town grew bigger and bigger with each passing year. In 1991, promoter Mariah Hanson, seeing a golden opportunity, took a risk, booked out a hotel and hired talent — and The Dinah was born. Now in its 24th year, the gargantuan girl extravaganza lures thousands of women to the desert town each spring for what Hanson, who still produces the energetic event, memorably describes as “a five-day bacchanalian whirlwind of lesbian delight.”
Although the majority of Dinah-goers are in their 20s and 30s, demographics span 21 to 70, with some women making an appearance at everything on the itinerary and others taking in a concert, party or film night as an aside to a weekend of golf. While some sources put numbers at 15,000 pool- and partygoing women, Hanson prefers not to dwell on figures, choosing instead to focus on delivering the best entertainment possible to however many thousands and thousands descend.
“We produce an event that rivals any in the country, straight or gay, which is not always the case with lesbian events. I don’t skimp on entertainment or production. We try to outdo ourselves each year. It’s a good recipe for delivering a five-star event,” she says.
Hanson has built a reputation for picking artists before they become huge. As a result, Dinah audiences have been wowed by various soon-to-be superstars before they took the rest of the world by storm. The stages and poolsides of Palm Springs have seen a constellation of entertainment legends perform during Dinahs past: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kesha, The Pussycat Dolls, Jane Lynch, Margaret Cho, Pat Benatar, Indigo Girls, even a special show from the briefly reunited Salt-n-Pepa, plus hundreds more. This year, Canadian lesbian heartthrobs Tegan and Sara headline and are responsible for what is set to be the Dinah’s largest audience yet, with a substantial influx of Canadians due to join the hordes.
“This year we’ve got a lot of Canadians coming because of our headliners, of course,” Hanson says, “but predominantly, it’s women from the western US states, although we get folks from all 50.”
In the last few years, the fame of The Dinah has been spreading beyond the continent; Hanson credits both word of mouth and the event’s starring roles onscreen.
“We’ve had an international audience all along, but the L Word TV shows have definitely been instrumental in spreading the word — both the original L Word when they filmed an episode here in Season 1 and The Real L Word. They’ve now filmed here three times.”
So, if you haven’t witnessed the wonders of The Dinah on television or in person, what can you expect if you decide to head for the desert this April? Parties, pre-parties, a White Party, a Black Party, a splashy array of pool parties, including an L Word pool party that will be attended by Leisha Hailey and Kate Moennig, plus a Friday-night film festival and shows by rising stars of the comedy world. Or, as one of those funny ladies, repeat Dinah performer Gina Yashere, tells me when I ask what she’s expecting this year, “A great weekend to hang with women from all over the world, great performers, music, parties and, of course, comedy. Plus, you’ll probably see a bare breast or 2,000! What’s not to love?”
For those who don’t know Palm Springs, the desert delight sits two hours’ drive from Los Angeles International Airport or two and a half hours by train from downtown LA. WestJet flies direct to Palm Springs from Vancouver.
A playground for early Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Dinah Shore, since the 1920s, the city of 50,000 today offers an enticing mix of mid-century modern architecture, hip hotels, hot restaurants, an average of 354 days of sunshine each year and April highs that hover around 27 to 31 degrees Celsius. If you can manage to tear yourself away from the hijinks around the pool, there are desert oases to explore, lush palm-fringed canyons in which to picnic and an aerial tramway that will swing you past the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon and deliver you to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains, 2,590 metres above, where trails and a restaurant await.
Official Dinah hotels that still have rooms available at press time include the colourful Hotel Saguaro (one of the pool party locations), the Courtyard Marriott, Monroe Hotel and The Renaissance Palm Springs. Palm Springs also has two lesbian resorts, Queen of Hearts and Casitas Laquita. The first lesbian-friendly resort to open, back in 1969, the nine-room Queen of Hearts is a secluded, palm-shaded getaway with roomy suites and mountain views. The Spanish colonial–style Casitas Laquita has a lush pool area and 15 casitas with full kitchens.
In the above promotional video for the 2014 Dinah, watch the “lesbian book club” debate the appeal of “tens of thousands of drunk, half-naked lesbians around a pool in 80-degree weather.”
More details on The Dinah and a full events list can be found at thedinah.com. Weekend passes for The Dinah’s events start at $229 (US).