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Cinema Hearts: An ex-pageant queen turned indie rocker

Caroline Weinroth, who performs as Cinema Hearts. (Sammy Hearn)

When she started performing as Cinema Hearts, Caroline Weinroth set out to unite two icons of Americana that seemed impossibly far apart: Miss America and the electric guitar.

After graduating from college, the singer-songwriter tried to make that fantasy a reality, competing on the pageant circuit and winning a handful of crowns throughout Virginia. Apart from giving her post-college life some structure, the world of pageants allowed her to tango with how girls and women are taught and treated in society.

“I always felt like I was performing or presenting myself a certain way to try and be what other people wanted,” Weinroth says. “Only very recently, I realized that doesn't work; it ultimately doesn't make you happy.”

While Cinema Hearts has previously viewed the subject of the female experience through the prism of pageantry, the fixation is most acute on the recently released “Your Ideal” EP. The five-tracker kicks off with two songs from the perspective of a woman ready to be whatever is expected of her: a queen, a princess, a trophy, a fantasy, an ideal. A few years removed from the scene, Weinroth is grappling with the larger societal struggles that pageants underscore.

“You can present yourself as this hyper-feminized, obedient, cooperative woman, and that can get you ahead — you get invited to the parties, people like you, people want to take your photo, people want to be your friend, whatever,” she says. “Ultimately, you go home alone and it's an empty feeling.”

But even if Weinroth and her fellow competitors were alone, they were not lonely: The pageants provided a sense of community that reminded her of experiences in the DIY music scene, a connection she explores on all-electronic closer “Sister.”

“It’s people all over the state and country at the grass roots who put on a show,” she explains. “Obviously, it’s a very different ethic and aesthetic, but at its core are people who want to make something special happen in their everyday lives.”

Even with her time in pageants over, Weinroth has sought to continue making special things happen, within and without Cinema Hearts. Although she worked in live sound for years and now teaches guitar, piano and voice, her attempts to bring musical events and mentoring to her community weren’t always easy. She recalls a local library that didn’t seem to trust her or take DIY music seriously.

Clearly, this wasn’t D.C.’s Mount Pleasant Library, which raised thousands of dollars with now-ubiquitous shirts and totes that ask, “What’s more punk than the public library?” Just as clearly, this library must not have listened to Weinroth’s music, which reaches back to the era of ’60s girl groups and doo-wop for inspiration.

“We all know Cinema Hearts is the most dangerous band,” she says, laughing.

Sept. 23 at 10 p.m. at Comet Ping Pong, 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW. cometpingpong.com. $15. Proof of vaccination required.

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