How much has the Dayton Celtic Festival grown since 2002? Bill Russell, the festival’s entertainment director since the beginning, has an easy way to tell.

That first year “you could pretty much count everybody and you knew about half of the people,” says Russell. About 5,000 people attended the first year, he says.

And now?

“It’s hard for me to see people because there’s so many folks there,” he says. “But I know they’re there. They tell me they went. So that’s a good thing.”

About 90,000 people are expected to attend this year’s free, three-day Dayton Celtic Festival July 29-31 at RiverScape Metropark, says Steve Baldwin, the festival’s marketing chairman.

The event, recently voted best festival in Dayton by readers of Dayton Magazine, is not an Irish festival, says Baldwin. “The Celtic Fest is a much more broad sort of audience,” he says. “We’re talking about anything Celt related, which covers a much broader area of Europe historically.”

To help visitors understand the culture, the Celtic Festival has a cultural area with exhibits and demonstrations, says Baldwin. There’s also a children’s area with games, crafts and miniature golf, an area that sells Celtic merchandise, a whiskey and beer tasting tent, food vendors, a 5K race, a bike ride, Irish dancers and even a Catholic mass performed in Gaelic on Sunday, he says.

“That certainly jump-starts us on Sunday,” Russell says. “It fills up our main venue right before we start off with the music for the day so I think that provides us with a really nice anchor.”

But most people come to the festival for the music, Baldwin says. One of the most popular musical acts is Gaelic Storm, he says. The group has played at the event since the first festival. “I think they’re the biggest draw, particularly for people traveling from out of state,” he says.

Other bands performing at the Dayton Celtic Festival are Socks in the Frying Pan, Scythian, We Banjo 3, Goitse and Screaming Orphans.

All the musical acts are appropriate for any age, says Russell. “We definitely gear our entertainment, our music and dance, so that it is appropriate for everybody, all ages,” he says. “So therefore families feel very comfortable bringing their entire family there.”

The Dayton Celtic Festival, which is hosted by the United Irish of Dayton organization, is so family friendly that many people have their annual family reunions at the event, says Russell. Many people call and email event organizers asking if they can rent space at the festival for their families who are coming from all over the country he says. Since they can’t, Russell says he tells people to just get to the event early and stake out a space.

It’s that family-friendly atmosphere that makes the Dayton Celtic Festival one of the most popular events in the region, Russell says. “I think the family-friendly aspect is key,” he says.