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Hibbing area native Patrick Villella took second place in the WE Fest Karaoke Roundup competition this year -- which means he will open for country superstar Toby Keith on the WE Fest stage, Friday, Aug. 3. Villella has family living in the Detroit Lakes area. Submitted Photo

Iron Range native with ties to DL area will open for Toby Keith on Aug. 3

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Every year since its inception, the WE Fest Karaoke Roundup has given aspiring singers -- specifically, the top three finishers in the annual competition -- a unique opportunity to open for some of the biggest acts in country music on the WE Fest stage.

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This year, one of those aspiring singers is Iron Range native Patrick Villella, who took second place in the finals of the karaoke competition and will be opening for Toby Keith on Friday, Aug. 3.

"It's like a dream, pretty much," Patrick says of being given the chance to sing on the WE Fest stage. "I've always loved singing, and performing -- I can sing pretty much anything, but what I love the best is country music."

Though he grew up on the Iron Range, near Hibbing, Patrick and his family have spent many summers fishing, swimming and boating in the Detroit Lakes area, where his uncle, Larry Villella, has a lake cabin -- "right down the road from WE Fest," Patrick says.

Larry Villella notes that Patrick and his family will be staying at his cabin during WE Fest, rehearsing and "waiting for the event that could change his life."

"We're very proud of his accomplishment," Larry added.

Patrick says that he has always felt that support from his family.

"I come from a big Italian family -- my dad's the youngest of 16 brothers and sisters," he said. "I have 76 first cousins."

Though country music is his first love, Patrick says, "I grew up listening to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and all that kind of music. I've got a great uncle that I've never met, Sam Villella ... he's actually friends with Tony Bennett."

Though his backup plan is to find a career in the mining industry if this doesn't pan out, Patrick says that his current focus is on launching a music career.

"I've been in a couple of other singing competitions," he says. "My first one was at the Mall of America, Center Stage. I won first place there and actually opened for Bowling for Soup and Ashanti at the Last Chance Summer Dance (hosted by KDWB Radio in the Twin Cities).

"The second one I was in was put on by (comedian) Louie Anderson and KQRS Radio. I won first place there too, and opened for Louie in Las Vegas at the Excalibur Hotel for a week.

"That was fun."

He's also sung the national anthem at a couple of Minnesota Twins baseball games -- when they were still at the Metrodome -- and for a hockey game at Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, which was televised on a regional cable sports network.

A 2009 graduate of Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minn., Patrick is currently working toward an Associate of Fine Arts degree in music at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.

"I'm classically trained in vocal music," he says. "I would love to be a full-time singer-songwriter and travel across the country."

The songwriting aspect of that equation, however, is something that he's just started working towards.

"I've written one song, but I'm still working on it," he says.

The song, "Why Mama Why?" is actually about his mother, who left his father and their family when Patrick was a senior in high school.

"That hurt a lot," he says.

Ironically, it's his mother who got him started in music, by singing at church.

"My mom sang at church, and that's kind of how I learned how to sing, was in church," he says.

Though he's still a fledgling songwriter, Patrick says he has recorded his first single, produced by Tim Anderson.

"It's called 'Cry Like Memphis,' and I just got it recorded yesterday," he says. "It's a country song, a tribute to Elvis Presley, and I'm actually going to be singing that song at WE Fest," he says. "I'm trying right now to get it on iTunes.

"If nothing happens after WE Fest, I'll probably go back to school, but that (music) is my focus right now," Patrick says.

The WE Fest country music festival, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, runs from Aug. 2-4 on the grounds of the Soo Pass Ranch south of Detroit Lakes.

Besides Toby Keith, the festival will also feature the return of Alabama, Jason Aldean, Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, John Anderson, Sawyer Brown, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Little Big Town, Colt Ford, Brantley Gilbert, Florida Georgia Line, Hitchville, Rocket Club and more.

The other WE Fest Karaoke Roundup winners who will be featured at WE Fest include third place finisher Michelle Delgado of Hastings, who will open for headliner Jason Aldean on Thursday, Aug. 2; and first place winner Robert Carter of Grand Forks, who opens for Alabama on Saturday, Aug. 4.

Tickets and camping packages are available online at the WE Fest website, www.wefest.com, or by phone at 1-800-4WE-FEST.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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