While planning his farewell bash, Tyson Leslie started feeling like he was planning for something else: “My funeral.”
At the end of the month, Leslie, a Kansas City musician since 1988, will move to Nashville, where he hopes to step up his music career.
“I’ve done about all I can do musically in Kansas City,” he said. “It’s time to try something else.”
Sunday night, Leslie will celebrate his 25-plus years as a musician in Kansas City. About three dozen bands and performers will join him at Knuckleheads, where Leslie will reunite some of his best-known bands, including 90 Minutes and Wyred, and perform with other bands and guests, including Samantha Fish and Amanda Fish.
“It’s pretty remarkable, all the people who are going to be there voluntarily, on their own time,” he said. “I feel really proud that I could make a bunch of phone calls and send out emails and get people to donate their time and hang out. For me, it almost feels like planning my funeral.
“I wanted to put together something that would be a way for me to say farewell to friends and do it musically instead of just hanging out at a bar. It’s going to be a damn good time.”
Leslie, a native of Vietnam and a current resident of Merriam, was in eighth grade when his family moved to KC from Colorado. He immersed himself in the local music scene and started his own bands. One of the bands Leslie will reunite Sunday night will be Alienation, his first high school band.
“Most people aren’t going to have any idea who we are,” he said. “But we’ll also have a version of Wyred, who were a pretty popular band at the Lonestar (Westport music venue) back in the day. I’ve been in a few bands for a long time: Simplexity, Pomeroy, 90 Minutes. But I’ve lost count of the others.”
His move to Nashville was inspired by a call he got a few months ago.
“I have friends in higher places who have lured me down there, guys who play stadium shows or in country music award shows,” he said. “They all say, ‘Why aren’t you down here?’”
One of those friends is Rich Redmond, drummer for country star Jason Aldean.
“He called me out of the blue in February and asked me if I’d ever thought about going to Nashville,” Leslie said. “At the time, I had not. He planted the bug in my ear. One thing he said really stood out: You have to be present to win. Stand back and take a long look at your career and ask yourself, ‘What is it you want?’ So I did. And I decided I want to do the things they’re doing. It’s worth giving it a shot.”
For several years, Leslie has been a performer at Howl at the Moon, the piano bar in the Power & Light District. He will do the same thing at a piano bar in Nashville but focus the rest of his time on integrating himself into the city’s music scene and singer/songwriter circles.
He will return to Kansas City in July for a Pomeroy reunion at VooDoo, and he expects to make occasional trips to Missouri to visit his older children. Otherwise, he’ll be leaving behind the only music scene he’s ever known.
“I’m nervous and excited,” Leslie said. “To be honest, I’m pretty terrified. This show is a good example of the network I’ve built in this city. Now I’m going to start over, halfway through my life? Sometimes it’s like, ‘What am I doing?’ But the cliche is true: If it doesn’t work out I can always come back home. I take comfort in that.”
Tyson Leslie will say farewell to Kansas City with a 6 p.m. concert Sunday at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester Ave. The lineup comprises more than three dozen bands and performers, including Tyson Leslie & the Scarlet Letters, 90 Minutes, the Baloney Ponyz, the Zeros, Red Line Chemistry, Samantha Fish, Amanda Fish, the Stolen Winnebagos, Wyred and the Howl at the Moon Entertainers. Admission is free. Children accompanied by an adult are welcome.