When he lists his favorite singers, White Bear Lake-based vocalist and entertainment entrepreneur Gary LaRue always puts Las Vegas icon Wayne Newton at the top. “He’s the ultimate showman,” says LaRue, who started Rat Pack Entertainment as an “extremely part-time” enterprise roughly a dozen years ago and has turned it into a full-time career.
When he’s crooning songs at private parties, weddings, restaurants, bars, casinos, senior care facilities and other local venues—either with prerecorded backing tracks or a band—LaRue always strives to emulate his role model’s ability to engage with audiences and make them happy.
But he can bring a few things to the party that Newton can’t.
Ice cream, for example. Several years ago LaRue bought a vintage three-wheeled bicycle cart, with a freezer container and sound amplification. As a fun add-on for weddings and other celebrations, LaRue can croon while he is handing out frozen treats. (He’s also used it a few times around the lake neighborhood.)
LaRue can also entertain as a DJ, spinning any song from any decade, depending on the taste of each audience. The newest additions to his party arsenal are two photos booths so people can make their own visual souvenirs of the occasion.
LaRue has been a singer as long as he can remember, just for the sheer enjoyment of it. As a child, he remembers seeing Newton do a couple songs on the I Love Lucy sitcom. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do some day.’” As a teenager, when his friends were going to see rock bands like Journey and AC-DC, he was digging Newton at the Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington.
He did his first public gig at Gordy’s Steakhouse in Willernie (formally the Shore Club), around 2004. Around that time he also decided to get into the DJ business to present a mix of singing to recorded background tracks, and spinning records.
Singing was a part-time gig for LaRue until a few years ago. He was working days in a software consulting firm when he realized he’d rather be somewhere else: onstage. “I didn’t feel like I was using my potential. I realized ‘This isn’t really what I'm supposed to be doing.’”
The place he is most happy, LaRue says, is onstage. “There have been times onstage, doing what I do, when I think to myself, ‘If everyone left right now, I don’t care.’ Because I love singing so much. Fortunately, people enjoy listening to me,” says LaRue, who did 273 gigs last year.
LaRue places a lot of importance on giving audiences what they want to hear, no matter the venue or event, even offering audiences a list of songs to choose requests from. His goal is to provide “something everyone can enjoy, no matter where they're coming from,” he says.
When LaRue is revisiting songs made popular by singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and others, his favorites include The Way You look Tonight, My Way, and There Will Never Be Another You.
LaRue’s two sons, Ryan, 23, and Justy, 21, have also gotten involved in the photo booth side of the business.
He credits his wife Chris for being supportive and encouraging.
Looking ahead, LaRue hopes to eventually set up mini-tours in Florida, Arizona, Mexico and, yes, Las Vegas.
Mike Willinbring, head chef and general manager at Reve Bistro & Bar in Stillwater, is a fan. “He has been playing here almost as long as it’s been a restaurant, and he always brings a crowd with him. He will tailor his style to our dinner crowd. He’s a great entertainer,” Willinbring says.
Barb Gutzman, director of therapeutic recreation at the Shalom Home in St. Paul, appreciates LaRue’s super-interactive style. “He’ll kneel down while singing and hold someone’s hand. And he makes them smile,” Gutzman explains.
For more information or to hire Gary for your next event contact him at 651.276.8459 or visit the website here.