GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — A Nebraska woman’s old wooden water ski that was transformed into “shotski” — owned for a while by country superstar Kenny Chesney — has become a representation of love, resilience and connection.
Michele Henke, of Doniphan, is a country music fan — more specifically, a Chesney fan. She has been a Chesney fan since the mid-1990s as a newly engaged woman.
She said she discovered Chesney’s music when she was trying to decide on a wedding song. Though she didn’t choose a Chesney song for her wedding, she has connected with his music ever since.
“I think at different times in my life, different songs that he’s had would hit home at different times,” Henke said. “He sings a lot about small town and country and that sort of thing. Well, I’ve never left Doniphan. I live here and my parents live down the road, so I think I can relate to some of that too.”
Henke has two sons, now grown, who played football. Chesney’s “The Boys of Fall,” off of his 2010 “Hemingway’s Whiskey” album, is a song about high school football players. Some of the chorus goes like this:
“It’s I got your number, I got your back
When your back’s against the wall.
You mess with one man, you got us all.
The boys of fall.”
“I couldn’t even listen to that song for a few years,” Henke said. “I’d be like, ‘Oh no, not that one, I’m gonna cry.’ ”
Her oldest son recently got married, and Henke danced to Chesney’s “There Goes My Life” with him.
Since the 2000s, Henke has been to at least 15 Chesney concerts.
“He gives everything and leaves nothing. It’s the most entertaining show that you could ever go to,” Henke said.
In 2016, Henke went to the Chesney concert at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City with her family. They arrived early to tailgate before the gates opened in the afternoon. Henke had made a custom No Shoes Nation shotski. No Shoes Nation is the nickname of Chesney’s fan base.
A shotski is a drinking tool that usually holds several glasses for taking shots simultaneously with friends. No Shoes Radio, Chesney’s Internet radio station, noticed Henke’s shotski and interviewed her.
Earlier in the day, Henke had seen Chesney ride past on a golf cart. She didn’t think her day could get better — until the radio crew told her that Chesney saw her shotski and wanted to trade her for it.
She said she’d be happy to just give Chesney the shotski , but he and his crew insisted on a trade. Chesney decided to give Henke a signed guitar.
Chesney held up the shotski on stage during the concert to explain that a fan made it. A photo of him holding it up then became the album cover for 2017’s “Live in No Shoes Nation.”
Henke went to Chesney’s concert earlier this month — on July 14, again at Arrowhead — with her husband and her oldest son and his new wife. A week earlier, they’d returned from the U.S. Virgin Islands — where Chesney’s home, and many others’ — were destroyed in Hurricane Irma in 2017. It was Henke’s seventh time traveling to the islands.
Again, the No Shoes Radio people saw Henke and interviewed her. This time, she had made Love for Love City chairs and a shotski. Love for Love City is Chesney’s foundation to help the people on the islands affected by the hurricane.
“I don’t know him personally, but I love what he stands for, from what I know outwardly, and giving back,” Henke said of Chesney.
The radio crew told Henke they wanted to take her and her family backstage for a photo in front of a Love for Love City backdrop.
She and her family looked around backstage, seeing items of Chesney’s and photos of her shotski. Henke heard a voice behind her, and as she turned around, she was shocked.
Chesney had wanted to meet them, knowing Henke was the one who made the shotski. And he had something special to give her: the shotski itself.
“This is obviously the ski you guys gave me two years ago,” Chesney said.
“This ski was one of the few things that made it through Hurricane Irma at my house,” he said. “And I thought that this described the connection with my fans and how much they care. And I thought that it described how strong the bond was between me and No Shoes Nation. And you guys were a huge part of that.”
Henke said she and everyone was emotional when Chesney spoke, knowing how much the people on the island and his fans mean to him.
“I can’t tell you how many times that me and my island friends used that shotski. Every day around 3 o’clock.”
Henke repeatedly thanked Chesney. She said she was amazed at how thoughtful the act was. She thanked him for all the work he does for others.
“I swear, this is one of the few things that made it through 200-mile-an-hour winds for eight hours,” Chesney said. “So thank you very much. I love you guys. In a weird way, the fact that it survived that storm shows how strong our (No Shoes Nation) connection is.”
Chesney wrote a special message on the shotski, much of what he told Henke when they met. She said she once thought of making another No Shoes Nation shotski since Kenny had the original, but she didn’t. She said that it’s crazy how it turned out and that he gave it back to her.
Henke said she will never forget the day she met her favorite musician.
The shotski, which stays propped up in Henke’s home, has been through a lot. For Henke, it not only holds the memories of the countless concerts she’s brought it to, but now it holds new sentiment that represents Chesney fans.