The musician took the the iconic venue to performing songs from his latest album, 57th & 9th, for survivors of the attacks and their families along with about a thousand other guests. Proceeds from the event are expected to go to two charities, Life For Paris and the 13 Novembre Fraternité Verité.
The British singer paused during the concert to speak in French to the audience about the horrific tragedy.
“Tonight we have two important tasks. First remember and honor those who lost their lives in the attacks a year ago.
“And second, to celebrate life and music in this historic venue. So before I begin I would like to start with a minute of silence. We will not forget them.”
The house dropped into total silence, Sting lowering his head. A minute later, he repeated “we will not forget” and softly launched into his song, “Fragile.”
Following a great applause, Sting then got the crowd into a celebratory mood with “Message in a Bottle” with the crowd changing along to “I’ll send an SOS to the world.”
The singer also dedicated “50,000” to Lemmy, Motorhead’s frontman, Leonard Cohen and the Eagles’ Glenn Frey — all of whom died in the past year.
The mood at the concert was one of somber remembrance as well as a celebration of life, as one concertgoer put it.
“I’m happy to be here,” Xavier Jugele, a 37-year-old Paris policeman told PEOPLE at the event. “Glad the Bataclan is reopening. It’s symbolic. We’re here tonight as witnesses. Here to defend our civic values. This concert’s to celebrate life. To say no to terrorists.”
“It doesn’t feel strange, it feels important,” he continued. “Symbolic.”
Jugele also revealed that he had visited the venue many times before the attack and was one of the many police officers who responded to the attack. “But outside,” he stressed.
Laurent Meynial, 45, also said the opening was symbolic.
“I’m here for the reopening is for all those who couldn’t come,” she tells PEOPLE. “To make a statement. The French Republic is here.”
Sting also repeated the message in English on his Instagram.
In re-opening the Bataclan, we have two important tasks to reconcile. First, to remember and honour those who lost their lives in the attack a year ago, and second to celebrate the life and the music that this historic theatre represents. In doing so we hope to respect the memory as well as the life affirming spirit of those who fell. We shall not forget them.
Helen Wilson, an American who was shot in both legs during the violence last year at Bataclan was also in attendance. (Her story made headlines as her boyfriend Nick Alexander died in her arms at the venue.)
“It wasn’t awkward,” she told PEOPLE. “It was right. It was emotional. Tough. But right. I’ve said there were only two people who could have done this right tonight. One is Sting and the other, Leonard Cohen.
“I didn’t think I could come,” she continued. “I didn’t think I would be able to walk in here. I came in just before it began. I saw people I know and Nick’s family is here.”
Wilson added, “I’m so happy to be here. So grateful to be alive — and you know what I forgot how much I like Sting. He was amazing.”
“The reopening of the Bataclan, in music, is a sign that we are turning to the future, through the creation, sharing and gathering around artists,” French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.
“This return of life to the Bataclan is also the victory of youth and the ideals of humanism against terror and division.”
At least 130 people were killed in a string of gun and bomb attacks carried out by terrorists in the city on Nov. 13, 2015. The worst of the violence occurred at the Bataclan, where 90 people were killed after two terrorists stormed a performance of American rock band Eagles of Death metal.
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The concert hall was quietly reopened briefly in March to survivors and their families. After the concert, the renovated venue will be closed again until Wednesday.
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The city of Paris is planning a memorial service outside the theater on Sunday at 11 a.m., commemorating the anniversary of the attack. Sting’s concert comes four days before the venue’s previously scheduled re-opening. Members of Eagles of Death Metal are expected to attend the memorial ceremony.