How Fiddlin’ Phil from Munjoy Hill came to Portland to stay

Phillip Swegart
Died 2012 at age 62

Phil Swegart was better known as Fiddlin' Phil from Munjoy Hill.

Phil Swegart was better known as Fiddlin’ Phil from Munjoy Hill.

Greetings from Portland. Sweater weather is here. Every day this month I’m telling a story that bridges the gap between this world, and the next. I’m resurrecting the memory of Portlanders who’ve crossed over to the other side by posting one video each day, relating the tale of one, interesting “permanent Portlander.”

Phil Swegart was born in Iowa, went to school in Massachusetts and came to Maine to hike the Appalachian Trail south from Mt. Katahdin. He didn’t get far on the trail, though, and decided to settle down in Portland where he became known as Fiddlin’ Phil from Munjoy Hill.

By day, he was a carpenter, hammering away at houses around town. After dark, he played his fiddle for dancers, drinkers and folks trying to forget their daily woes — an unfiltered Lucky Strike dangling from his lip, all the while.

I wish you could have heard him play.

Phil Swegart and I played in bands together for almost 20 years.

Phil Swegart and I played in bands together for almost 20 years.

He had a bottomless mind, stuffed full of old movie trivia, fiddle tunes and stories of the old days.

But he was also troubled. He drank too much and died too soon. He was my friend, my bandmate, and I’ll always miss him.

A few years back, I wrote a song about Phil called “Up Jumped the Dancers” and recorded it with The Squid Jiggers. Maybe it will shed a little bit more light on who he was.

Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.

Phil Swegart was better known as Fiddlin' Phil from Munjoy Hill.

Phil Swegart was better known as Fiddlin’ Phil from Munjoy Hill.

"Fiddlin'" Phil from Munjoy Hill lies buried in South Portland's Calvary Cemetery.  For 30 years he was a fixture in Portland's roots music scene. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

“Fiddlin'” Phil from Munjoy Hill lies buried in South Portland’s Calvary Cemetery. For 30 years, he was a fixture in Portland’s roots music scene. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

 

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.