Whiskeytown is a lake, not just a band

WhiskeytownLakeToday is Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer’s get-away vacation season. People across America will spend the next few months scattering to far-off resorts, tourist attractions, parks and bodies of water — including Whiskeytown Lake. And yes, there is such a thing.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the Ryan Adams-led band from “Losering,” but there is indeed a Whiskeytown Lake in California, which is part of a National Recreation Area about 250 miles north of San Francisco; it even has an artist-in-residence program (talk about a missed opportunity for Ryan!). The lake is of relatively recent vintage, dedicated by President John F. Kennedy as part of a water project in 1963. But there is still a fanciful story about the name, which supposedly goes back to the mid-19th century:

WTLakeSignWhile no one really knows the origin of the Whiskeytown name, local folklore tells of a miner by the name of Billie Peterson who had a mishap in the 1850’s. While hauling supplies back to his mine, the pack on his mule’s back came loose and a whiskey barrel went tumbling down the hillside, breaking on the rocks below and spilling its contents into the creek. From this christening came the name Whiskey Creek, and the small settlement that established itself next to the waterway became known as Whiskeytown.

Apparently, Whiskeytown’s members didn’t know this story because I’ve never seen or heard any of them reference it as a source. And it does seem so quaint that I’m not sure I trust it as actual folklore. But good stories are often that way.

UPDATE (8/2/2018): Wildfires are devouring the area around Whiskeytown Lake.

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2 thoughts on “Whiskeytown is a lake, not just a band

  1. mkuker

    I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan in either late 1997 or early 1998. I had just started freelancing and he was one of my first interviews, and the first who I actually liked. He was very friendly and garrulous, and put me at ease from the start. My interview can be read here: http://kuker.com/2013/08/02/from-the-vault-dispatches-from-whiskeytown/

    I grew up near Whiskeytown, and I asked Ryan about the name. He said he hadn’t heard of the town/lake before the band, but they stopped by the closed general store during one of the tours and slid some shirts and CDs through the mailslot. He told me “whiskeytown” was slang for drunk in his town. I’m not sure he meant Raleigh orJacksonville.

    Loved the book, by the way. I was convinced Strangers Almanac was going to make them huge, too.

  2. dmenconi

    Appreciate that. And next time I find myself in the vicinity of Whiskeytown Lake, I plan on jumping in!

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