TAMPA — Garth Brooks loves fans with signs, and Rachel Riley had hers all planned out.
"Two GB tickets, 2,238 miles traveled to see GB for my B-day. Will You Move Me to the front row please?"
Riley, of Reno, Nev., was planning to wave the sign around Amalie Arena on Saturday, part of a 27th-birthday weekend megatrip to Tampa.
There will be no sign now. Brooks on Sunday canceled his three Tampa concerts this week due to a conflict with the Tampa Bay Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup final. As mandated by the NHL, Game 2 between the Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks will be Saturday at Amalie Arena — the same night Brooks was to play back-to-back shows.
After exploring all options for moving or rescheduling the two Saturday shows, Brooks opted to cancel all three outright.
"It really broke my heart when I read that," said Riley, who said she spent around $3,000 on the trip. "It's a bummer." She was disappointed that a solution couldn't be found, such as moving to a different arena.
"I understand things happen, but a lot of people put a lot of heart and money into this show," she said.
In a statement, the country superstar and his wife/tourmate Trisha Yearwood said Lightning and Amalie Arena officials worked "around the clock for the last 48 hours to find a remedy for the situation," including looking at moving the two Saturday shows to Sunday.
"The issue of getting the network crews and their gear out of the building and getting our crews and gear into the building late Saturday/early Sunday for two shows on Sunday raises serious safety concerns," the singers said. "It is because of those safety concerns that the choice is being made to refund all shows and reschedule depending on finding a date that works for both the arena and the tour."
Tickets purchased online or by phone through Ticketmaster will automatically be refunded. Those who bought tickets at Ticketmaster outlets or at the arena's box office will need to seek refunds through the point of purchase.
The decision didn't come lightly. Brooks is the bestselling solo artist in American history, and these were to be his first Tampa concerts since 1998. Most of the tickets for all three shows had already been sold.
But an official announcement on the shows didn't come until about 18 hours after the Blackhawks defeated the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, setting the stage for this conflict.
For fans, the wait was agonizing.
Moises Jacobs, a 31-year-old lawyer from Miami, spent much of the weekend scrolling through Twitter in a frenzy, looking for any official updates.
"It was pretty frustrating," said Jacobs, who'd planned a weekend trip around his tickets on Saturday. "There was silence from both Garth and the arena, and everyone was feeding their own fires by reading all the tweets and imagining all the scenarios that would happen."
Would Garth move his shows to Thursday and Friday? Friday and Sunday? Another venue altogether? "It wasn't even misinformation," Jacobs said. "It was just no information."
Riley — who's stuck coming to Tampa, due to her nonrefundable plane tickets — echoed his frustration. "They kind of just left us hanging," she said. "They had to expect that this could happen. Why did they even put themselves in this situation?"
For his part, Brooks — a hockey fan who has raised millions for charity working directly with the NHL — congratulated the Lightning on its finals appearance.
"We are convinced everything that could have been done was done to try to remedy the situation," he stated. "Congrats again to the City of Tampa, good luck, and we will be watching the series!!!"
Not every fan, however, shares the sentiment.
"I know I'm not the only person that was really excited to see him go back on tour," said Jacobs, whose seats were in the 11th row on the floor. "As soon as I got the tickets and they were such great seats, I thought we were going to cross one off the bucket list. But I guess we'll see what happens when he comes back. If he comes back."