If you think a beauty pageant contestant can’t be a tough rock ’n’ roll singer, meet Caroline Weinroth.

Weinroth just competed in the Miss Virginia pageant for the third time (as 2019 Miss Roanoke Valley), and also leads the indie-rock band Cinema Hearts. Rather than a contradiction, she sees the two roles as complementary. Weinroth began playing guitar as a freshman at George Mason University, which gave her a different way to express herself compared to her other performing passion: musical theater. But she didn’t have a good venue for performing at the time.

“I did my first Miss America pageant when I was 18, because Miss America has a talent portion and this was around the time when I was starting to play guitar for the first time,” said Weinroth. “There really wasn’t anywhere for me to perform, since a lot of spaces near me were, like, bars or more for older men. So competing in Miss America was the way that I could play guitar onstage.”

A few years after that, Weinroth formed Cinema Hearts, with her brother Erich Weinroth on bass. The band was inspired by the girl groups of the 1960s like The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las.

“I was really drawn to ’60s girl groups because it was music I could sing easily, because I have a lower voice,” said Caroline Weinroth. “I was always fascinated with it because it was the first time in music history where young women got to sing what was on their minds. I love the idea of sisterhood, the sassiness, the romantic defiance, all those different themes that you hear in that era of music.”

Weinroth brings that spirit of feminism to her role as a Miss Virginia representative. Her community service platform is Music Empowerment. She has worked in Arlington and Roanoke with groups that help introduce girls to musical performance. Her band has also played several shows here for the nonprofit Fredericksburg All Ages.

“If I had played guitar in high school, I would have been so much better adjusted as a teenager,” said Weinroth. “I would have felt so much more confident. That’s why I love Fredericksburg All Ages. When I was a teenager in high school, I had no idea that music like this was an option. In my head, I always thought that bands were just something that exists on the radio—the Hollywood concept. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that anyone can just pick up an instrument and do this.”

Weinroth performed a solo version of “Walking After Midnight” at this year’s Miss Virginia pageant, accompanied only by her own electric guitar. While she was disappointed that she did not take the prize for the talent portion of the contest, she was encouraged by the overwhelming positive feedback she received after her performance.

“I didn’t win this year, and I was really crushed by it,” said Weinroth. “But then to have strangers come up to me afterwards and say, ‘It was one of the coolest things I ever saw.’ I had moms send me videos of their daughters reenacting my talent performance with little toy guitars. It’s those moments when I realize I don’t need a physical award to tell me I made an impact. I didn’t have a role model like that when I was a little girl, so that’s something I aim to do now.”

Cinema Hearts has released two albums. Both were produced by Erich Weinroth, who earned a degree in music with a concentration in music technology from George Mason while playing in the band. In fact, they were able to use the recording facilities at GMU to create their albums.

“The school of music is fine with it because we are one of the most hard-working student bands,” said Caroline Weinroth. “Erich’s wonderful because he’s very sassy and he’s my younger brother. We’ve grown up together for years, so he’s always there to check my ego.”

Erich has gone on to pursue a graduate degree from the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore but continues to play with his sister in Cinema Hearts, along with drummer Shane Chergosky, who joined the band in 2018. Because of the logistics of balancing the undergrad studies of the Weinroth siblings and Chergosky (who Caroline Weinroth met as a fellow GMU grad student), they don’t always perform as a trio. Caroline performs as a solo act and sometimes as a duo with Chergosky. The music has been moving in a more garage-rock direction, but still retains those ’60s girl group elements that makes the band’s sound so appealing. Weinroth says the group is looking forward to its upcoming Music on the Steps show in Fredericksburg.

“As we’ve gotten older and more established, we’re able to be more particular on what gigs we want to do, so we tend to just do one or two a month,” said Weinroth. “I try to make them something special, which is why I’m excited to play in Fredericksburg. I’ve never played outside the library, only inside the auditorium. I love summer concerts and I love that relaxed hometown, community vibe.”

Stephen Hu is a Fredericksburg writer and musician.

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