By Ryley Hartt

For as long as live music and sporting events have attracted spectators, there has existed an elite faction known as tailgaters. These are the standard-bearers, the tip of the spear, the ones responsible for hauling the heavy equipment and securing the parking perimeter so the rest can arrive safely and swill beer until called inside by the sound an opening set or kickoff.

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Tailgating has evolved over time from a clever ploy to avoid the concession stand into a tribal subculture, complete with its own customs, etiquette, and regional cuisine. Nowadays the pageantry of the tailgate party often takes primacy over the event itself, opening doors to a new breed of spectators who catch the shuttle just for the party and never set foot inside the venue. But whether you're a season ticket holder or look like you just woke up from Mardi Gras, here are some tips to step up your pre-game as we wrap up our summer concert calendar and cross our fingers for a timely start to the NFL season.

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You've got the grill, EZ-Up tent, and separate coolers for food and drinks strapped to the tow hitch; besides the lawn chairs and jar of your homemade dry rub in the back seat, what else do you need? Some tailgaters swear by a game of corn-hole using a store-bought or homemade board with holes and some beanbags to throw in them. Other hosts tote along a regulation-size folding table, a surplus of plastic cups, and a couple ping pong balls for rounds of college's most-played sport. Friends are prone to wander off whenever a game of ladder ball (also known as ladder golf) is being played nearby, so make the investment beforehand if you don't want to lose them. Better yet, make your own with some PVC tubing, nylon rope, and colored golf balls.

If it's a chilly fall day, you're going to want a couple large Thermoses of something hot and warming, whether coffee or hot chocolate (your choice to spike it or not). For those over 21, keep things simple with canned beer and two-ingredient cocktails like a screwdriver or Dark 'n' Stormy. But how to keep them cold? Those fancy trays to make different ice cube shapes -- the ones you said you had to have and then totally forgot about -- are perfect for this occasion, as they're likely to impress your friends and keep them from depleting the ice chest too quickly. If you're apprehensive about not having enough, go for chipped ice. And if size is really what matters to you, try making some extra-large ice cubes in empty yogurt containers. Your bourbon-drinking friends will commend you.

Not everyone feels compelled to get up at 7 a.m. and marinate steaks for a 7 p.m. kickoff. That's OK. You can still pretend you did with an instant marinator that uses vacuum sealing to marinate the meat in about five minutes. If you're grilling kebabs, flexible cable skewers like the ones from Fire Wire can be loaded up with twice as much food and still leave you with more open grill space. Some other accessories worth checking out are a space-saving rib rack and ceramic pizza stone to use on your grill. Whatever you do, just don't forget to thaw the turkey before it goes in the deep fryer or you'll have nothing to eat after the rocket launch.

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