LENOX -- The second annual Lenox Caroling Festival, designed to boost community holiday spirits and bring business to the town during a key pre-Christmas weekend for merchants, attracted an estimated 600 listeners or more to the downtown historic district on Saturday.

Eight choral groups, including three from Berkshire County and others from eastern Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware, serenaded onlookers on the porches of four downtown establishments on a day that started out rainy but turned cloudy and relatively mild for the time of year.

At the awards ceremony held at Shakespeare & Company on Saturday evening, emceed by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, the MCLA Allegrettos, a 30-member vocal group from the North Adams liberal arts college, captured first place, winning the $2,000 grand prize. Last December, the ensemble took second place.

Votes were tabulated based on ballots cast by listeners as by a panel of professional musicians and critics.

The second-place award of $500 went to the Lexington High School Madrigal Singers, based in suburban Boston. The group performs at least 30 concerts yearly in the area.

Festival president Richard Wise said the event attracted more than twice as many spectators as last December's first edition. He said that nearly 2,500 votes were tallied by listeners -- obviously, some voted more than once. A 30-year local gemologist who owns R.W. Wise, Goldsmiths, Inc. on Church Street in Lenox, Wise relayed reports by merchants and restaurant owners telling of increased business.

"Last year was good, and I would say this year we're approaching great," stated Paul Leney, owner of B Mango & Bird, an eclectic home-furnishings and lifestyle shop, who reported business there up by about a third compared to last year.

Among other merchants reporting an upsurge of activity were Marla Monjardo, owner of the Evviva boutique, Matt Tucker, co-owner of the Shots Cafe, and Aurelien Telle, co-owner of the Alta restaurant and wine bar.

The Lenox Select Board approved $3,500 to help jump-start the event, designed as the town's prime winter-season attraction for tourists and local residents. Wise and his organizing committee raised more than $20,000 from area businesses to support the project and he also lined up local sponsors.