HEAVY TRAFFIC is expected on this summer’s North American concert circuit, with Whitney Houston, Paul McCartney, Van Halen and the Grateful Dead among the talent scheduled during the Memorial Day through Labor Day season.

Several big-name acts that have already begun North American tours are expected to resume activity with summer legs, including Prince and Def Leppard, the latter with Ugly Kid Joe as its opener.

Additionally, the Lollapalooza Festival, whose lineup was announced last week (Daily Variety, April 7) should be a strong draw. Also lurking in the wings is a possible stadium tour featuring Neil Young, Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Concert promoters are generally optimistic about summer prospects, according to Ben Liss, exec director of the North American Concert Promoters Assn.

“There’s a combination of interesting packages, strong headliners and newer artists,” Liss said. “Hopefully, the fans will respond.”

Noting a “surge in country activity,” Liss said there is particular enthusiasm for tours by Reba McEntire, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam and the double bill of Clint Black and Wynonna. Dates by Travis Tritt and Vince Gill are also possible.

Still, upbeat predictions have been the rule for promoters over the last four years, which has seen huge losses and consolidation for many sectors of the concert biz.

Hard rock audiences will revel in a barrage of activity. Van Halen will celebrate the release of its first live album with dates starting June 25 at Pine Knob in Michigan. Opening act is former Motley Crue vocalist Vince Neil and his new band. Aerosmith will begin live dates to support its upcoming “Get a Grip” album beginning June 2 in Topeka.

Meanwhile, fellow Geffen labelmates Coverdale/Page (featuring ex-Whitesnake singer David Coverdale and ex-Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page) are expected to hit the road around July 1. The veteran rockers’ promise of a show that will draw on material both past and present is a sure-fire lure for concertgoers. Poison is also on the road, headlining a bill also featuring Damn Yankees and Jackyl.

The hierarchy of British rock will be represented by McCartney, Sting and Peter Gabriel, all set for summer. McCartney, one of the few stadium headliners, opens his tour Wednesday at the Silver Bowl in Las Vegas and stops in Los Angeles Friday and Anaheim Saturday, continuing into June.

Sting kicks off April 26 in Miami and has a two-month U.S. swing booked through June 26. Sting will also make select stadium appearances as opening act for the Grateful Dead. Dates for Gabriel have yet to be announced, but a William Morris Agency representative confirmed that he will be out from June through August.

Houston is preparing to return to live performance with an itinerary to run through fall. Another strong mainstream draw will be Neil Diamond, who has dates booked from mid-May through mid-June. Adults favorites Frank Sinatra and Julio Iglesias will play select individual dates through summer.

A LeVert/Silk double bill starting Aug. 3 and a 100-city tour for rapper Dr. Dre are significant packages for the Gotham-based Famous Music Agency, one of the dominant forces in black/urban shows. Famous’ Jerry Ade said his company’s summer bookings include a new Def Jam Comedy season, an extensive Cypress Hill tour and a series of reggae dancehall dates featuring Shabba Ranks.

L.A. SEEN: It was easy to see that the stars were aligning in a favorable manner last week, especially on the lovely, smog-free night that Reprise Records held a listening party for Chris Isaak’s new album, “San Francisco Days.” The actual listening was done under the simulated stars in the Griffith Park Observatory dome. Outside, Mel Blanc Jr. was showing off his unbelievably cherry ’51 Mercury “Lead Sled.” Other Isaak fans on hand were Anthony Edwards of “Northern Exposure,” Barbara Orbison and singer Juliana Raye.

Across town a few day earlier, Egyptian pop star Amr Diab held court at the Los Angeles Hilton. His only U.S. release to date is “Ei Yaani” (So What?), a track on a compilation from Island’s Mango label.

Diab, however, is one of the most successful singers in Egypt and several other Arab countries. His Hilton show, staged by Arab-American TV, was a catchy mix of traditional Arabic melodies and instrumentation, combined with synthpop; it was a perfect backdrop for a voice so compelling you don’t have to understand Arabic to be moved by it.

The ballroom was packed with a parade of opulence, fans dressed in floor-length sequined dresses, fox stoles and tuxes. Two hours after opening act the Angel Band began with a cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” Diab caused the crowd to go ape by walking through the ballroom to the stage.

A fight broke out during the second song, but goodwill took over and the dancing continued. If the mosh pit at a Pearl Jam show seems rad, try a roomful of women, in four-inch heels and full-length gowns, bellydancing on table tops amid flying wine glasses and silverware.

Capitol Records held a 20th anniversary bash for Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” late last month at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. The highlight was a laser show inside and outside the theater. KLSX radio simulcast the album to hundreds of fans, many adorned with neon-rainbow tube jewelry and tie dye. Inside, trying to conjure up the ’70s, the theater was filled with beanbag chairs.

Headphones were handed out to enhance the music when the laser show began. Undoubtedly, it took most of the audience back to their adolescent years, when they probably achieved the same sort of state with a flashlight, a closet and lid of dirt weed. Lounging about were actors Corey Feldman and Johnny Depp, Timothy Leary, members of Yes, and astronauts Pete Conrad and Buzz Aldrin, who was attracting more attention from autograph seekers than any of the entertainment celebs.

EASTWEST RECORDS reggae artist Snow recently left a jail cell for much greener pastures: the top of the pop charts.

The Toronto native has seen the song “Informer,” from his debut album “12 Inches of Snow,” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart for five straight weeks.

Darren O’Brien, 23, recently served eight months of a year sentence for assault and battery. With that particular challenge behind him, he’s ready for a new one: answering the critics, who don’t think a white Canadian kid has any business singing Jamaican reggae. (Some refer to him as the Vanilla Ice of the genre).

“I feel like I have to prove myself more than others,” Snow said. “I get dissed by people who say, ‘He’s not from Jamaica, he’s got no business.’ But you don’t have to be from Jamaica to love the music. It’s the Jamaicans’ fault, anyway, for making me love their music!”

Snow’s style of dancehall reggae is heavy on ’90s hip-hop edge, though the singer takes his cues mostly from old-school reggae artists — Barrington Levy, Half Pint, Don Carlos.

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